- The Washington Times - Monday, May 10, 2010

Polls suggest that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s job may be in jeopardy after this fall’s midterm elections. In one West Virginia congressional district holding its primary Tuesday, that could be true even if the Democrat wins.

In one of the more creative expressions of anti-incumbent fever, state Sen. Mike Oliverio is giving 14-term incumbent Rep. Alan B. Mollohan a stiff challenge in the 1st District’s Democratic primary, and Mr. Oliverio is not sparing the Democratic speaker from California in his campaign.

Mr. Oliverio, 46, told a local newspaper that he would prefer to vote for a House speaker who has “the best interest” of the state. He later told voters at a local chamber of commerce dinner, “Hopefully, there will be a better candidate than Nancy Pelosi.”

The primary could foreshadow whether Democrats can limit their losses this fall in congressional and gubernatorial races. Mr. Mollohan, who has not faced a primary challenge since 1992 and did not even attract a Republican opponent in 2008, is under fire for unpopular votes for the 2008 economic bailout and for President Obama’s health care overhaul bill.

West Virginia and Nebraska are holding primaries Tuesday, and the Mollohan-Oliverio clash will be among the most closely watched contests.

The Cook Political Report and other forecasters suggest a Republican could win in November and are calling the race a tossup. Veteran campaign strategist Dick Morris predicted at the same chamber dinner that a Republican would win the seat, which has been held by Democrats since 1969.

The Republican front-runners are former state Delegate David B. McKinley, former state Sen. Sarah M. Minear and real estate businessman Mac Warner. Mr. McKinley appears to hold a slight lead.

Although the district has long been a Democratic stronghold, Barack Obama received only 42 percent of the vote in the 2008 election.

“The trend is clear at this point, and we have another six months,” said Troy Berman, executive director of the state Republican Party.

Mr. Mollohan can point to his seniority on Capitol Hill and his powerful perch as chairman of one of the House Appropriations subcommittees. But Mr. Oliverio is trying to use that post against his opponent, running a tough ad directly attacking Mr. Mollohan’s ethics.

The ad, which the Mollohan campaign sharply criticized, alluded to charges that Mr. Mollohan had earmarked spending in appropriations bills for nonprofit groups run by campaign supporters. The Justice Department in January ended a four-year probe into the reports without bringing charges.

The district encompasses the northern third of the state, but its culture and economy are largely oriented to nearby Pittsburgh, from its fading steel and coal industries to its sympathies for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Saying the health care plan will expand federal funding of abortion, pro-life groups have joined the effort to defeat Mr. Mollohan and have contributed some of the estimated $1 million poured into the race in the past few weeks. Among the groups are West Virginians for Life and the Susan B. Anthony List, which has spent $30,000 for radio ads questioning Mr. Mollohan’s pro-life stance and attacking his vote for the health care bill.

“We promised Rep. Mollohan that we would make his re-election incredibly painful if he voted ‘yes,’ ” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List.

West Virginians for Life has switched its endorsement to Mr. Oliverio and also supports Mr. McKinley. The group’s national affiliate, the National Right to Life Committee, has made the same endorsements.

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