Acting West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) won the state’s special election for governor Tuesday, avoiding what could have been an embarrassing loss for President Obama and his party.
The Associated Press affirmed Tomblin’s victory over Republican businessman Bill Maloney shortly after 9 p.m. eastern time.
Tomblin became governor 11 months ago when then-Gov. Joe Manchin (D) won a special election to the U.S. Senate. Tuesday’s special election was for the final year of Manchin’s term, meaning Tomblin will have to run again next year for a full four year term.
With the win, Democrats successfully avoided a second special election loss in less than a month. Republicans won a special election in another heavily Democratic area three weeks ago, when Republican Bob Turner won a New York City congressional seat.
In West Virginia, Republicans closed a deficit late in the race due in large part to a Republican Governors Association ad that tied Tomblin to the implementation of Obama’s health care bill. The ad ran in heavy rotation in the closing days of the campaign and even Democrats acknowledged it was moving numbers.
Still, it’s not clear what broader conclusions can be drawn from the race. Democrats argue that the state is highly atypical and impossible to use as a national measure of anything. West Virginia remains one of the last bastions of conservative Democrats, returning large Democratic majorities to its state legislature even as most other states with proud histories of conservative Democrats were going Republican in 2010.
Voters in the state are also largely content with the way things are going, a feeling that stands in stark contrast with voters nationally who believe that things are badly off on the wrong track.
Still, Obama took just 43 percent of the vote in West Virginia in 2008, and since then his approval rating has dropped to around 30 percent -- one of his worst marks nationwide.
Though governor’s races are often insulated from the national political winds, Republicans were able to successfully tie Tomblin to Obama by painting Tomblin as an enabler of Obama’s health care bill. But that message ultimately came up short.