CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — With a low turnout expected in West Virginia's May 14 special primary election for governor, endorsements could prove crucial.
"When you have low turnout elections, you can have surprises, particularly in a field as divided as this one," said political science professor James White of Concord University.
Six Democrats and eight Republicans seek each party's nod.
Endorsements could provide the needed edge — if the groups that award them can get their members and other voters to cast primary ballots.
Robert Rupp, political science professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College, said endorsements promise the mobilization of voters.
"In a short campaign season and with a low turnout, and in a state that is taking early voting seriously, endorsements are important," he said.
Several statewide unions have already picked their preferred candidates in the Democratic field. House Speaker Richard Thompson has been the main beneficiary.
The state AFL-CIO is backing the Wayne County lawyer. So are the United Mine Workers and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. The West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia have also united behind Thompson's campaign.
But other labor groups have chosen different candidates. Acting Senate President Jeff Kessler has won the nod from the state Fraternal Order of Police and the West Virginia Advanced Nurse Practitioners. The region's Teamsters local and the West Virginia Troopers Association have endorsed state Treasurer John Perdue.
The state Farm Bureau is supporting Perdue, and also former Secretary of State Betty Ireland among the Republican candidates. West Virginians for Life has made its choices, but spokeswoman Vicki Covert did not know Friday when the anti-abortion group would announce them publicly. The national group Emily's List, which supports abortion rights, has endorsed Secretary of State Natalie Tennant in the Democratic primary.
The state Chamber of Commerce's executive committee expects to consider endorsements over the next two weeks, spokesman Roman Stauffer said. It's highly likely that the business group would get behind a Democratic candidate, Stauffer said, and probable that it would choose from among the Republicans.
Rupp offered a caveat about endorsements. In normal election cycles, he said, their influence has waned over the last decade or so. He cited the high-profile failure of the teachers' groups to defeat state Sen. Erik Wells in the 2010 Democratic primary. They had targeted Wells, who is also Tennant's husband, and endorsed a rival amid a debate over charter schools.
"The trend overall is that endorsements are less powerful," Rupp said.
But he added that in regular, multi-race election seasons, endorsements may provide gravitas that can aid fundraising.
The Associated Press queried all 14 Democratic and Republican candidates about their endorsements and fundraising. Most declined to release figures before submitting their campaign finance reports, which are due by Friday.
Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has raised more than $1 million for his Democratic primary bid, campaign manager Joe Shafer said. Delegate Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said he's raised $5,000. Fellow GOP contender Cliff Ellis put his tally at around $3,000.
Some candidates have already harnessed their funding to spread their message statewide. Republican Bill Maloney, a Morgantown mining consultant, has aired radio ads for the past several weeks. Thompson appears to be the first with a TV spot, which debuted Saturday.
But in their responses to AP, most of the campaigns detailed efforts by the candidates to visit voters and groups across West Virginia in search of support.
"We've had very encouraging conversations with numerous business and pro-family groups and activists all over the state," said Maloney campaign manager Matt Dabrowski.
Maloney is among several GOP candidates, including Ireland and Putnam County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Sorsaia, who have made a point of reaching out to state tea party groups. Ireland has also noted that she's been the only Republican to attend forums hosted by the WVEA and the NAACP. Tennant, running in the Democratic primary, has taken a similar tack, spokeswoman Gwen Rocco said.
"Natalie has met with voters and groups all around the state," Rocco said Friday. "She's been open and engaged throughout the process, just as she'll be as governor."
Tennant's campaign is also touting results of internal polling. Veteran former delegate Larry Faircloth, a Berkeley County Republican, said he's also traveling the state while highlighting the endorsements he received during his more than two decades in the Legislature.
As for the potential turnout, last year's special primary for U.S. Senate saw roughly 15 percent for each party. A special election in 2005 for a proposed bond sale that voters rejected yielded a turnout of around 14 percent.
"In an election like this, every vote is really, really important," White said. "You know who can win when one in four or one in 10 voters shows up? Anybody can win."
Lawrence Messina covers the statehouse for The Associated Press.Tags: