Friday, November 07, 2014

West Virginia sees historic change in party control, but veteran observer says it won't mean much

Ken Ward Jr. (Photo by Al Cross)
Republicans scored historic victories in West Virginia this week, capturing both houses of the state legislature, all three of the state's U.S. House seats and the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller. But Ken Ward Jr., the coal and environment reporter for The Charleston Gazette, questions whether much will change.

"It’s popular among the GOP’s career campaign consultants to describe this election as some huge change in power, in who runs things in West Virginia," Ward writes on his Coal Tattoo blog. "It’s the end of more than 80 years of Democratic control, they say over and over."

Ward notes that West Virginia re-elected two Republican governors in recent decades, that most Democrats kowtow to the coal industry, and cites a Gazette editorial that blamed bad campaigns for Democratic defeats: "They ran ads just like the Republicans, suggesting that all West Virginia’s problems are the fault of President Obama and the EPA. The result? When faced with a genuine Republican and a pale imitation, people vote for the real thing or don’t vote at all."

Noting that 23 percent of voters told exit pollsters that someone in their household works in the coal industry, Ward says a Democratic pitch on mine safety "doesn’t get much traction when West Virginia’s House, Senate and governor’s office—all controlled by Democrats—pass such a weak excuse for a mine safety bill after the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster."

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