WWW Opinion Times

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Are the Numbers Really Against Robert Byrd?

With all due respect to the political insight of Dick Morris (and he deserves much), he is quite wrong about his belief that Cong. Shelley Moore Capito--D-WV has a chance to defeat Sen. Robert Byrd--D-WV. It is unlikely that he will come down to defeat when otherwise Republican business owners won't cough up the money to make the Republican machine work. The WV GOP was severly choked in 2004 because these businesses were unwilling to buck Democrats who held and wielded a serious threat of reprisal. In the aftermath, the GOP there is in shambles. More of that later.

Morris makes the following assertion:
Byrd, who still boats a 62-28 favorable-unfavorable ratio, may have met his match and master in Capito, who has a statewide rating of 57-35.
Sorry Dick. The 11% undecided in that poll will swing to Byrd precisely because of his 62% favorable. West Virginians will stay with what works before they move to Capito who cannot win in the Southern counties. She has a lackluster pro-life voting record rating lower than Democrat Cong. Nick Rahall who represents that strongly pro-life area of the state. And vote-buying in the southern counties (e.g. Lincoln, Logan, Wayne, Cabell et. al) still proceeds unchecked making it very difficult to gather needed votes (and significantly depressing Republican turnout).

Shelly Moore Capito has a family name as strong as Byrd. Her father, former Republican Governor Arch Moore, is incredibly popular in WV, even with his indictment, conviction and jail time served for vote buying years ago. Problem is, she isn't Robert Byrd. She (or anyone else for that matter) will have to earn the respect Bob Byrd still holds with many in the state. West Virginians still tend to break toward that with which they feel comfortable. They felt comfortable with a Texan over an East Coast Liberal in 2004. Will they feel equally comfortable with an up-and-coming "young lady" over the stalwart force of the "dependable" Byrd? The jury is out on that, but smart bets should be placed with Byrd.

One thing Shelley does well is mildly deprecating humor. In most of her campaign appearances in 2004, she announced her late arrival thus: "I'm sorry I didn't get here on time, but because I try to avoid roads named after Robert Byrd, got a little sidetracked." It was well stated and, as they say, "many a true word was spoken in jest."

Morris also postulates that national trends favor change in traditionally blue states that went strongly for Bush in 2004.
. . . West Virginia went for President Bush by 56-43 in 2004 and 52-46 in 2000, and voters who back the GOP nationally are getting less and less forgiving of their Democratic representatives and senators in Congress. As party-line voting increases in Washington and the well-publicized partisan feuds animate the body, voters are getting the point that as long as the legislators vote a straight party line, so should they.
There is some truth to this, but remember, the Democrat Gubernatorial candidate in 2004--and current Governor--, Joe Manchin won with 62% of the vote while Bush was getting his 56%. For those of you who have run political campaigns like myself, that is solid statistical proof that West Virginians still have a HUGE block of swing voters. And in West Virginia, they swing Democrat still unless they have a compelling reason to do otherwise.

Change is coming to WV sometime in the future but with a recent meltdown in the State GOP (read here and here--registration required), Republicans are not in a very good position to support any candidate unless support comes from outside the state and a tremendous grassroots operation is successfully carried out.

Two other factors:

First, Capito has been given good committee appointments recently in Congress which is a sign that leadership is giving her strong reasons to stay in her district (which is likely to be lost if she abandons it). So it all may be a moot point if she sits this one out.

Second, the current announced candidate, Hiram Lewis, came within a whisker of defeating Attorney General Darrell McGraw in 2004. This makes him a dark horse hopeful, though he benefited from a strong anti-McGraw turnout (related to strong opposition to his brother who went down to defeat for a Supreme Court seat that same year). That election proved that a strong vote against an opponent can bring Hiram close, but if he cannot give a good reason for people to vote FOR him, he can't get over the top.

One parting thought. Because Sen. Byrd is in failing health and therefore might have to abandon the seat, it may come down to open seat race. This would give a Republican a great opportunity to take the seat. But under such a scenario, look for Gov. Joe Manchin--a well-liked, proven statewide vote-getter who is endorsed by West Virginia Right-to-Life (an important endorsement in WV)--to appoint himself in place of Byrd. This will make it equally difficult for any Republican opponent.

I call this Senate seat to stay Democrat (Byrd or Manchin) with a 40% chance of a Republican upset.

(Disclosure: I worked for the WV GOP in 2004 as a paid statewide grassroots consultant).