While the political circus kept spinning its what-might-have-beens around Chris Christie yesterday, there was an actual election going on in West Virginia, where Democratic governor Earl Ray Tomblin, who took over from Joe Manchin when he moved to the Senate, was up against Republican Bill Maloney. Maloney tried his darndest to pull Tomblin down by tying him to Barack Obama and Obamacare, and came close but not close enough -- Tomblin hung on, 50 to 47 percent.
The outcome is of little direct consequence for the 2012 campaign, given that Democrats haven't really tried to compete in West Virginia (a state that once went for Jimmy Carter over Ronald Reagan) ever since Al Gore lost the state in 2000. But Tomblin's win will spare us what was looking to be a new round of overwrought and ill-founded punditry. Consider the following from Tuesday morning's First Read:
And if there is an upset? Think what happened after Scott Brown’s Jan. 2010 victory in Massachusetts -- but bigger. An upset would provide further evidence that Obama is toxic in red states -- a stark reversal from 2008, by the way -- and you’ll see Democrats start running for the hills, which could produce a self-fulfilling outcome 13 months from now. In September, you could dismiss the GOP’s congressional victory in New York (because of Anthony Weiner’s problems, because of the Democratic candidate’s poor campaign, and because of the district’s unusual concentration of Orthodox Jewish voters). But it will be hard for Democrats to spin away losing this race.
Wow. Losing the West Virginia governor's race, bigger than Scott Brown claiming Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in true-blue Massachusetts and thereby taking away the Democrats' filibuster-proof majority in the Senate! But set aside the hilarious hyperbole and consider one very specific flaw in this line of reasoning, that Obama's unpopularity in West Virginia is a "stark reversal from 2008." This traces back to a basic misreading of the 2008 election. Obama did in fact do well in red states -- in the primaries! He racked up delegates by winning primaries and caucuses in places like Idaho and Kansas. But these contests involved a mere slice of these states' electorates. And yes, he expanded the map in the general election by picking off a few states from the Republicans' column -- Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana, Colorado. BUT -- in a whole other swath of Red State America, he got crunched. There were five states where Obama had a lower share of the vote even while winning nationally than John Kerry had while losing nationally four years earlier. And West Virginia -- where Obama lost to Hillary in the primary by an eye-popping 41 points -- was one of them. For the second time this week, I recommend this remarkable map, showing the contiguous swath of America that gave McCain more votes than George W. Bush received in 2004.
So what again was supposed to be so new and revelatory about West Virginia now displaying a coolness toward Barack Obama?