Rep. Alan Mollohan loses Democratic primary in West Virginia

By Chris Cillizza
Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-W.Va.) lost his bid for a 15th term Tuesday in a primary defeat that further affirms the anti-incumbent sentiment coursing through the country.

He is the first House member to lose a reelection bid in the 2010 campaign, and his defeat comes days after Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) was knocked off the November ballot in that state's convention process.

Mollohan hadn't faced a serious primary fight in more than a decade and was seen in some circles as unbeatable, given that the state's 1st Congressional District seat had been in his family since 1968. (His father held it for seven terms before he won it.)

But state Sen. Mike Oliverio ran hard against Mollohan's entrenched-incumbent status and made much of the lingering whiff of ethics problems that dogged the congressman for years.

With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Oliverio had 56 percent of the vote to Mollohan's 44 percent. In November, he will face former state delegate David McKinley, who won the Republican primary Tuesday night.

The Democratic race had become very nasty in its final weeks, with Oliverio referring to Mollohan as "one of the most corrupt members of Congress" and the incumbent retorting that his opponent was "lying" and "spreading right-wing smears."

State and national strategists warned Mollohan regularly of the threat that Oliverio posed, but the congressman, several sources said, ran a campaign suited to the early 1990s rather than 2010, in terms of its sophistication.

Republicans had made clear that they preferred to run against Mollohan and must now reorient their strategy. Besides being damaged by ethics allegations over the past few years, Mollohan had drawn opposition for his vote in favor of President Obama's health-care bill.

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that less than a third of voters said they plan to back their current member of Congress -- numbers that haven't been seen in Post-ABC data since the Republican-dominated election of 1994.

Just how bad the situation is for incumbents will be tested in a serious way next Tuesday, when Democratic Sens. Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) attempt to fend off primary challenges.

Staff writer Aaron Blake contributed to this report.

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