West Virginia Special

Political junkies get to focus on a special election today in West Virginia, as Republicans try to win control of the Governor's job that late polls indicate is a dead heat.  If the GOP wins this race, it seems almost assured of spurring more stories about possible election troubles next year for Democrats.

The special election for Governor was brought about in the aftermath of the death of Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, when Gov. Joe Manchin took Byrd's seat in the U.S. Senate.

Replacing Manchin as Acting Governor was Earl Ray Tomblin, who led in some polls earlier this year by over 30 percentage points.

But that lead has evaporated with Tomblin now ahead of Republican Bill Maloney by 47-46 according to the latest poll by Public Policy Polling, a group that does a lot of work for Democratic Party candidates.

A PPP review showed Tomblin's approval ratings have dropped 13 points in the last four weeks, maybe from advertising attacks, and a campaign strategy that involves the Obama White House.

"Attempts to saddle Tomblin with the burden of Barack Obama might be having an impact," read the PPP overview, which noted that "the President's approval in the state is just 28%, with 63% of voters disapproving of him."

Think about that last figure - that's a negative 35% margin on job approval for the President.

While Democrats still have the advantage in West Virginia in terms of party registration, though the PPP poll shows most of the movement in this Governor's race in recent weeks has come in the form of Democrats shifting over to the GOP candidate.

In 2008, the Mountain State went for the Republicans in the race for the White House, as John McCain easily won with a 56-43% margin over Barack Obama.

The last Republican to win a race for Governor was Cecil Underwood in 1996 - oddly enough, that was the last time that Democrats won West Virginia, as Bill Clinton captured the state both times he ran for the White House.

Historically, Democrats have held the edge for Governor in West Virginia, as Republicans have won only four times since 1933.

If the GOP adds another victory tonight, look for Republicans to try to spin this as another piece of the puzzle that shows major voter discontent with the Obama Administration.

If the Democrats win, Republicans will likely do what special election losers do, and that's to minimize the outcome and downplay any idea that it could be linked to a broader political theme.

For those wondering, today marks 57 weeks until Election Day 2012.