The U.S. Senate race in West Virginia appears to hinge on two issues: Jay Rockefeller's spending and John Raese's experience.
Some say the outgoing Democratic governor is doing too much of the former, and others say the Republican political novice opposing him has too little of the latter.
President Reagan today campaigned in the economically still-starving Mountain State, urging election of Raese and himself to help "West Virginia share in the prosperity that is sweeping America." Although West Virginia was one of six states Reagan lost four years ago, a Charleston Gazette poll released today showed the president leading Democrat Walter F. Mondale by 8 percentage points.
But it appears unlikely that either the president's popularity or that of GOP gubernatorial candidate Arch Moore will be enough to help Raese defeat two-term Gov. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV in the race to succeed Democratic Sen. Jennings Randolph, who is retiring after a career that began 52 years ago.
The question of who is to blame for the state's continuing double-digit unemployment and its thousands of jobless coal miners and steel workers has been a key point in the campaign. Raese (pronounced Racy) blames Rockefeller, noting that unemployment has decreased sharply in each of the five states that border West Virginia.
While Reagan spoke to a cheering, flag-waving crowd of 4,500 in a high school gymnasium here, Rockefeller criss-crossed the state with Rep. Claude Pepper (D-Fla.) and tried to shake off criticism of the high cost of his campaign.
As of last week, Rockefeller reported spending $9.28 million -- $6.9 million of it his own money -- compared with $765,425 spent by Raese.
By comparison, in the highly publicized Senate race in North Carolina, incumbent Republican Jesse Helms had raised $13 million to the $8 million raised for Democratic Gov. James Hunt and had outspent Hunt $8.7 million to $6.5 million through September.
When questioned about his spending, Rockefeller speaks as if he is being controlled by an extra-terrestial force. Asked Sunday whether he might top the record $11.7 million he spent four years ago in winning a second term as governor, Rockefeller replied: "I sure hope not."
Similarly, in discussing his omnipresent television commercials which appear even on Washington and Pittsburgh channels, Rockefeller told the Charleston Gazette: "I'm doing some in Washington again, which I didn't think I was going to do, but I am." Then he added, "If I truly regretted it, I guess I wouldn't be doing it."
The Beckley Post-Herald recently ridiculed the governor for paying large numbers of persons to help get out the vote on Election Day (in 1980 he spent nearly $1 million on that effort). A fake advertisement on the Post-Herald's editorial page urged readers to "be a poll worker for Jay. Call 346-8800, collect. Ask for press secretary Mike Willard. Tell him you want $100 to work for Jay."
An angry Willard reported that 100 people had called by noon of that day and 90 percent of them didn't know the offer was a joke. Willard called the stunt "despicable and unethical" and compared it with "the kind of dirty tricks we got from Donald Segretti and Richard Nixon in Watergate."
Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), campaigning in the state for Raese, said Rockefeller's spending "borders on corruption."
Rockefeller responded that "you do everything that's ethical, legal and proper" to win.
Raese, 34, is the heir to a family limestone business and publisher of the daily Dominion-Post in the university town of Morgantown. Called an "ordinary" millionaire, he won the GOP nomination partly on his boast that he was the only Republican candidate with enough money to "play on the same field" as Rockefeller.
But that has proved to be an idle boast: He has put up about $300,000 of his money, and is being outspent 12 to 1 by the governor.
New polls by two Charleston newspapers show Rockefeller maintaining a comfortable lead over Raese. The afternoon Charleston Daily Mail reported today that Rockefeller was leading Raese 55.9 percent to 38.9 percent, with 5.2 percent undecided. The morning Charleston Gazette was to report Tuesday that Rockefeller was leading Raese 51.16 percent to 38.92 percent, with 9.88 percent undecided. The governor said his own poll, conducted daily by Peter Hart, showed him leading 54 to 38.
Raese said that his pollsters show him 6 percent behind and closing, but that he prefers to believe a "common sense poll" that looks at the double-digit unemployment (highest in the nation), deteriorating road and environmental conditions.
Rockefeller has a high negative regard among voters -- 20 percent prefer anyone but him and another 20 percent say almost anyone but him. Some political observers say Raese has picked up the anyone-but-Jay voters but apparently has failed to develop much of a following on his own behalf.
Raese snipes at Rockefeller as an outsider. Rockefeller, 47, counters that he came here 20 years ago as a VISTA worker, that his four children were born in the state and that he was a member of the legislature and a college president before first running unsuccessfully for governor in 1972.
In turn, Rockefeller points out that Raese has never held public office, never even sought it before. Raese answers that seven of the senators elected in 1980 had no previous experience.
Moore, 61, appears to be set to recapture the governorship that he held for eight years before losing to Rockefeller in 1976 and again in 1980. Polls show Moore leading House of Delegates Speaker Clyde See, 43, by a dozen points or more.
First-District GOP candidate James Altmeyer is given the best chance of unseating one of the state's four Democratic congressmen. Fourth District Rep. Nick J. Rahall II is an odds-on favorite, despite publicity about his owing a $66,000 gambling debt to Las Vegas' Dunes Hotel.