Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 7, 2016

Mixing Apples and Oranges in West Virginia

Hoping to hang on to retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s open seat, Democratic strategists are passing the word that attorney and energy company executive Nick Preservati is looking closely at the 2014 Senate contest in West Virginia.

National Journal’s Hotline on Call describes the possible Democratic candidate as “a wealthy, pro-coal, pro-business Democrat in the style of SenJoe Manchin,” the state’s junior senator who is best known for his opposition to the Obama “cap and trade” plan and his support for gun owners’ rights.

I know nothing more than that about Preservati, and he could turn out to be an interesting option for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which, after all, would be happy to have a fighting chance to hold the Senate seat in next year’s midterm elections.

But there are lots of reasons to be skeptical, at least at this point. Here are just two.

First, Democrats have the same problems in West Virginia these days that Republicans have in Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland and Hawaii. It is called partisanship.

Preservati may be a “pro-coal, pro-business Democrat,” but voters in the Mountain State know — or will know, after Republicans have their say — that the Democratic Senate majority is neither and that sending Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., another member won’t do much to improve coal’s standing with the White House or in the environmental movement, which remains very close to the national Democratic Party.

For every Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., there are 10 Linda Lingles and Mike Sullivans, attractive candidates from the “wrong” party. Lingle, a Republican, lost last cycle in Hawaii, while Sullivan, a Democrat, lost in Wyoming in 1994. Each had been a popular governor.

Second, Preservati may be “in the style” of Manchin, but he isn’t Manchin and hasn’t had the decades in elective office (and name identification) and record of political independence that the senator has had.

In this case, a Democrat with a blank slate is better than an avowedly liberal Democrat, but it isn’t nearly as good as a Democrat with 30 years of public service and a reputation as a moderate.

As far as I know, Preservati has never held elected office. Manchin, on the other hand, was elected to the West Virginia House in 1982 and to the state Senate four years later. He was elected secretary of state in 2000 and governor in 2004. Four years later, he was re-elected to a second term as the state’s chief executive.

In 2010, then-Gov. Manchin won election to the U.S. Senate to fill the remainder of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s term, and in 2012 he won a six-year term.

State voters know Manchin. They like Manchin. They trust Manchin. They even trust Manchin to go to Washington, D.C., and rub shoulders with Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn.; Bernard Sanders, I-Vt.; Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. But in West Virginia, Manchin is awfully close to being unique.

In other words, a Democratic political newcomer won’t get the benefit of the doubt that Manchin will — or even that veteran Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, the all-but-certain GOP nominee — will get. And that is why, although the Senate race certainly is worth watching at this point, Democratic optimism should be very guarded.

  • Roolgol90

    I’m from WV and I have never heard of Preservati.

    • Stuart Rothenberg

      Trust me, you aren’t alone. But if he runs and spends some of his own money, you’ll hear about him…..

  • susierosie

    There are more democrats than republicans in WV. I don’t know why they don’t vote as democrats beats me. It could be racism is playing a big part. There are democrats who lean to the left on social issues, but are racist. They vote republican a lot because the GOP is the party of white people. I believe that if democrats have a coal friendly candidate and a social liberal on earned benefits programs to run he will win. The only problem is that us liberal democrats will lose either way because we won’t have a real democrat and this democrat will more than likely vote more often with the GOP.

    • Stuart Rothenberg

      There WERE more Democrats than Republicans. Coal, President Obama etc. are in the process of changing that. Much the way states like VA, DE, PA, NM and even NH have moved toward the Dems, other states — Arkansas, Louisiana and West Va — have been moving to the GOP.

  • Aaron Deskins

    From West Virginia, and I have little optimism of holding the seat. Last cycle we lost 11 Legislative Seats to the GOP, with Democrats now at 56-44 in the House of the Delegates – the lowest since 1928. Call me a pessimist, but the “War on Coal” campaign has moved this State strongly Republican. I doubt even Hillary Clinton could win it in 2016.

  • West Virginian

    The Democrat and Union Bosses do not have a chance to elect a Democrat for Senator against Shelley Moore Capito.

  • USMCJock

    Two things immediately come to mind:

    1) Why doesn’t Manchin, on his own, or w/ the help of Democrats, go on the stump with Preservati? and,

    2) What makes Preservati a Democrat? What are his political positions?

  • USMCJock

    After reviewing the attached link and hovering the mouse over WV, I see why Democrats went out and got Preservati.

    Capito (55%) beats Democrat Rahall (37%)
    Capito (51%) beats Democrat Davis (24%)
    Capito (53%) beats Democrat Goodwin (19%)

    Now, the good news is that these are all republican pollsters that did not fare well in November. Meaning, they’re not so good. But I do believe Capito has the name recognition.

    Obma’s position on coal is tough. Democrats may lose this seat, however, a little research on Nick Preservati proved to be fruitful. He has lots of money to help w/ lack of name recognition statewide. However, he has massive name recognition within the coal industry…as his family and he are extremely well-connected to the coal industry, but he’s got some nasty AEP baggage that Democrats won’t like.

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