GERRARDSTOWN, W.Va. | John Raese would have filibustered both of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees, not only opposes the minimum wage but thinks it may be unconstitutional, and won’t say whether Social Security and Medicare are constitutional but allows that they are here to stay.
The Republican nominee, locked in a fierce battle for West Virginia’s open Senate seat, is also a supporter of term limits and an unabashed defender of capitalism, who vows if elected to fight against earmarks and try to eliminate the entire Education and Energy departments.
He is not tempering his conservative views ahead of the Nov. 2 vote, but he said in an interview he draws the line at cutting unemployment benefits, which he would have voted to extend, and would not have joined in the GOP’s repeated filibusters this year on the issue.
“Government has to have some soul to it. If you have no soul, you have nothing. I would not have participated in the filibuster because I believe that we have to do something, because the government caused a lot of the problems we have today,” Mr. Raese, a businessman who has had to lay off workers during bad economic times, told The Washington Times.
After years of Democratic dominance, West Virginia is flirting with Republicans for several federal offices this year, including the Senate seat that Sen. Robert C. Byrd held for more than five decades until his death earlier this year.
Since the winner of the West Virginia race will be sworn in before the upcoming lame-duck session of Congress, Mr. Raese said his election would give his state’s voters a chance to bolster the Senate GOP’s numbers in time for fights over tax cuts and possibly over an energy bill.
Mr. Raese is among the more established Republicans riding the “tea party” wave this year - he was the GOP’s Senate candidate in 1984 and 2006, its gubernatorial nominee in 1988 and also has served as state party chairman. He said he has always held strongly conservative views, but this year voters are much more ready to accept them.
He’s running against second-term Gov. Joe Manchin III, a pro-life, pro-gun rights Democrat who has been notably popular as governor but who is having trouble translating that over to his bid for Mr. Byrd’s seat.
The RealClearPolitics.com average of polls has the race tied - a slight uptick for Mr. Manchin, who has been trying to disassociate himself from national Democrats. Mr. Manchin has also tried to seize on a recent revelation that a casting firm hired to find actors for a national Republican Party-backed commercial said the people posing as West Virginians should appear “hicky” and wear “John Deer” hats - complete with the misspelling of the farm equipment company’s name.
Speaking in the living room of a supporter in Gerrardstown in the state’s Panhandle, Mr. Raese said Mr. Manchin is being hurt by voters’ worries over giving Mr. Obama more support for his agenda in Washington.
“I think a lot of people are concerned that when you … look at state issues, they like what Joe Manchin says. But they don’t like what they see with him going with Obama, and him marching hand in hand with the Democratic Party in Washington,” he said.
Lara Ramsburg, a spokeswoman for Mr. Manchin’s campaign, said Mr. Raese is using “scare tactics” to try to convince state voters Mr. Manchin can’t be trusted in Washington. But she predicted that West Virginians will look at the governor’s work in the state and reward him.
“The things they’re wanting to have happen in Washington, and the change they want to have happen there, are the things they’ve watched happen in West Virginia over the last six years with Joe Manchin,” she said.
Ms. Ramsburg said Mr. Raese’s support for abolishing the minimum wage is a sign the wealthy Republican is “out of touch with the West Virginia working person.”
Mr. Raese, chief executive officer of Morgantown-based Greer Industries, which runs interests as diverse as mining and broadcasting, has taken fire for saying he would abolish the minimum wage. But he has refused to back down, saying it’s not only bad policy, but it’s not constitutional.
“I don’t think it is. And the reason I don’t think it is, is the same reason the [National Recovery Administration] was not constitutional in 1936,” he said. “It was declared unconstitutional because it was government micromanaging an intervention into the private sector. Well, what are price controls, or what are wage controls? They’re the same thing.”
Mr. Raese said he would like to see fewer filibusters and more cooperation in the Senate, but said the rules protect the right to filibuster. And he said if given the chance, he would have used the delaying tactic on both of Mr. Obama’s Supreme Court nominees, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
“If we could have filibustered, I certainly would have,” Mr. Raese said.
He said he will support Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell to continue to be Republicans’ leader in the Senate, saying they’ve been friends since he made his own first Senate bid in 1984.
“I just have an allegiance to him. He’s a good conservative, he’s somebody who makes a good message for our party, he’s a good leader,” Mr. Raese said.
Mr. Raese says Republicans are poised to earn a “negative mandate” from voters - a charge to block or roll back the Obama agenda.
The biggest mandate from the voters, he said, “is a rejection of socialism, pure and simple, and a rejection of [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid and [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi, when they pass bills that people don’t read,” he said. “It is a negative mandate. When I travel around, people are hot. They’re not hot about positive things, they’re hot about what’s happened to them. And they’re angry and they’re upset.”
The candidate said he opposes congressional spending earmarks, and said he thinks West Virginia voters are ready to be done with the steady diet of pork-barrel projects they enjoyed courtesy of Mr. Byrd and federal taxpayers.
But he also said earmarks, which account for less than 1 percent of discretionary spending, are a small part of the spending problem in the Capitol. He said big cuts are needed, and asked for specific programs, he took aim at two full Cabinet-level departments.
Mr. Raese said he’s never been able to figure out what the Energy Department does - “I’m going to learn, I hope I have the opportunity, but I don’t understand for the life of me why we have it.” The Education Department, he adds, “has failed miserably across the United States.”
“I think it’d be better off just giving every state a billion dollars. You’d be ahead,” he said. “When you look at outcomes-based education, when you look at school-to-work, No Child Left Behind, the list is endless of failures.”