- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2008

It’s a sign of how strange this election year is when a Virginia politician is sent to get West Virginia Democrats fired up for their party’s presidential nominee.

Virginia has not given its electoral votes to a Democrat since 1964, while West Virginia voted for Democrats Hubert Humphrey, Jimmy Carter (twice) and Michael S. Dukakis, among others.

Yet this year, Virginia, once rock-solid Republican, is teetering between Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, and Republican Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, while West Virginia is seen as a sure thing for the Republicans.

At the annual Jefferson-Jackson fundraiser Saturday night in Charleston, W.Va., Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, Democrat and national co-chairman of the Obama campaign, came to try to help sell his candidate to a state once taken for granted by Democrats.

“Democrats have to show we know how to solve problems, and we have to stick together,” he told the crowd of politicians and party regulars.

Despite the enthusiasm, Mr. Obama is unlikely to win in West Virginia over Mr. McCain.

The party has a large advantage in voter registration and political representation - including control of both legislative houses and the governor’s mansion. And of the five West Virginians in Congress, just one is a Republican. However, Mr. Obama lost in the May 13 Democratic primary by a margin of more than 2-to-1 to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

As in other states, Mr. Obama has struggled to win over white, blue-collar voters. And Mr. McCain is seen as the clear favorite in West Virginia.

While in West Virginia, Mr. Kaine stressed the importance of a unified ticket from the county level to the presidential race as the key to his party’s recent successes in Virginia: successive Democratic governors, one Democratic senator and a Democratic retaking of the state Senate.

“The reason we’re winning seats in Virginia is that we’re showing people we know how to solve problems,” he said. “Democrats know how to govern, folks.”

Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain are running neck and neck in Virginia. The state’s importance to the Obama campaign is underlined by the three visits there since June by either Mr. Obama or his running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Mr. Biden, in fact, visited Virginia earlier on Saturday.

By contrast, Mr. Obama has not come to West Virginia since the primary.

Mr. Kaine and high-ranking West Virginia Democrats, exhorted the crowd to embrace the party’s nominee in a kind of reverse coattail effect: by voting Democratic down the line, they’re hoping those votes will trickle up to the top of the ticket.

“We have been the party that basically the whole state puts its hopes in,” said Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat running for re-election this year against Russ Weeks, a Republican. “And we have been the party that’s delivered.”

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