50 States in 50 Days Election Preview: 35. West Virginia

In the 50 days leading up to the election on November 6th, I will be doing a profile of the 50 states and previewing what is on the ballot and how they are likely to vote. All of the posts so far can be found here

35. West Virginia

Capital: Charleston

Nickname: Mountain State

Motto: Montana Semper Liberi

(Mountaineers Are Always Free)

About the State

Prior to the arrival of European settlers, West Virginia was home to Native Americans, most notably the Osage, before the Beaver Wars led to the Iroquois Nation expanding into the area and pushing other tribes further west.  Although it was originally a part of the Virginia colony and then state, the area to the west of the Allegheny Mountains – part of the Appalachian range –  was less homogenous than the eastern portion and the way of life completely different – the rugged terrain made it impossible to have plantations and thus slavery was not profitable.  During the American Revolution, there was push to create a 14th state, called Westsylvania, but the separation was not achieved for another 80 years.

When Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, the 38 counties to the west saw their opportunity to separate and 49 delegates met to determine if they should support the rebellion against the Federal Government.   The vote went against recognising the secession and in favour of attempting to establish a new state but, in order to do this, a new Government of Virginia had to be formed so that it could give permission to the creation of West Virginia.  While the legality of this move was brought into question, President Lincoln considered it necessary and also insisted on the state’s new constitution having provisions for the abolition of slavery.  This was done and, on June 20th, 1863, West Virginia became the 35th state of the Union – although because at the time 11 states had seceded, it technically joined as number 24.

Coal mining has been a major part of West Virginia’s economy ever since the resource was first discovered in 1742 and today the state, despite its relatively small size, ranks second in nation in production of the fuel behind Wyoming.  However, the industry was also at the epicenter of the biggest armed rebellion since the Civil War, the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921.  Coal operators in Logan County – in southern West Virginia – had enforced a system of exploitation against their workers since the late 19th century; forcing them to live in towns, and shop in stores, that were owned by the companies.  The miners, who were concerned about the dangerous work they were subjected to as well as the financial oppression, sought to unionize the coalfields and marched into Logan, but were met with a private army funded by the Logan County Coal Operators Association.  At the end of the battle, which lasted for more than a week, more than 50 miners had been killed, with 985 arrested on charges of murder, conspiracy to commit murder and treason – although by 1925, all had been either acquitted or paroled.  In the short-term, the conflict had a negative effect on the power of unions, but the victory for management was short-lived as by the 1930s, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) were in southern West Virginia and larger groups such as the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) had formed to better protect workers rights.

West Virginia is the 41st largest state in area and, with just over 1.8 million residents, it ranks 37th in terms of population.  75% of the state is covered by forests and the first free mail house delivery in the country was started in Charles Town.  No Presidents or Vice-Presidents have hailed from West Virginia, nor are there any “Big Four” sports teams located in the state, but it was the subject of the song “Take Me Home, Country Roads” first recorded by John Denver – who was born in New Mexico and spent most of his life in Colorado.

Presidential Race

Electoral College Votes: 5

2008 Result: McCain 55.7% Obama 42.6%

Latest Poll: Romney +14%

Although the GOP have won West Virginia in the last three Presidential elections, prior to that the Democrats had won five out of six contests in the state, including Michael Dukakis gaining its Electoral College Votes in 1988.  However, President Obama lost there by double digits in 2008 and Governor Romney has a similar lead in the polls this time around, suggesting the Republicans will extend their winning streak in the Mountain State.

Also on the Ballot

Congress: There is one Senate election in West Virginia this year, with Democratic incumbent, Sen. Joe Manchin, a strong favourite to win a first full term – he won a special election in 2010 to replace Sen. Robert Byrd (D), who died in office – against the same opponent as two years ago, Republican John Raese.  West Virginia has three Representatives in the House and all of the incumbents – two of whom are Republicans, with one Democrat – are expected to win re-election this November.

Gubernatoiral: Following former Governor, Joe Manchin’s election to the Senate in 2010, there is a special election to replace him as Chief Executive of the state.  Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin has held the post for the last two years and he will face Republican, Bill Maloney in November’s ballot.  Polls currently suggest that Tomblin will be re-elected to serve a full four-year term.

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