CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia's leading business and coal industry groups endorsed Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Thursday, giving the Democrat a boost in a race marked by contrasting views of the long-struggling state economy and whether it has made progress in recent years.
The state's Chamber of Commerce and Coal Association each cited Tomblin's track record in public office. The chamber counted Tomblin among several endorsed candidates who "have a history of working hard to move West Virginia forward." Coal Association President Bill Raney, meanwhile, called him "a very strong proponent as well as student of the coal industry."
"Earl Ray has always been there in leadership positions," Raney said Thursday. "He has a deep understanding of the fiscal situation."
But Tomblin's tenure has prompted his GOP opponent, Bill Maloney, to cast him as a failed career politician. Tomblin rose from a rank-and-file legislator first elected in the 1970s to West Virginia's longest-serving state Senate president. He narrowly defeated Maloney in a special election last year to complete an unexpired term. Their November rematch is for a full, four-year term.
West Virginia has long ranked below all or most other states in such areas as per-capita income and people living in poverty. Tomblin, 60, and other public officials see recent gains reflected by ongoing tax cuts, robust emergency reserves and an unemployment rate that has stayed below the national figure.
But Seth Wimer, Maloney's campaign manager, cited such factors as a looming budget deficit threat and "5 straight months of skyrocketing unemployment" to argue that West Virginia remains headed in the wrong direction.
After back-to-back general revenue surpluses, officials project a hole of $200 million to $300 million in the budget the Legislature must craft next year. That has spurred Tomblin to order an array of state agencies to trim their spending by 7.5 percent.
Unemployment, meanwhile, stood at 7.4 percent in July, the latest month for figures adjusted by seasonal hiring trends, the same level as January. It had steadily dipped to 6.7 percent by March before climbing again. The national rate was nearly 1 percent higher than West Virginia's in July, and 27 other states reported higher rates as well.
Wimer also discounted the sources of Thursday's endorsements.
"It's no surprise that the Charleston lobbyists and political insiders, whose livelihoods depend on 'staying the course,' are circling the wagons around Earl Ray," Wimer said.