26 September 2008

Friday Election Roundup

  • The Associated Press finds an almost-unheard of 25 write-in candidates approved for West Virginia's general election, including 14 for president. While their names won't appear on the November ballot, votes for them will be counted if they're written in. AP's Tom Breen found the write-in roster included an imprisoned felon, a Pennsylvania man "whose platform includes requiring all public businesses to have restrooms," and a man who has legally changed his name to Santa Claus.
  • Secretary of State Betty Ireland has sounded the alarm over hundreds of bogus voter registrations submitted to clerks in at least three counties. As AP reports, the likely culprits are workers hired to register new voters who forged registrations to up their pay. The Charleston Gazette and MetroNews also have coverage (the latter with audio).
  • Public Broadcasting interviews Marty Gearheart, the Mercer County businessman challenging U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-3rd. With audio.

Energy in W.Va.

  • Environmental groups have commissioned a statewide poll that found a majority believing in climate change and favoring "solar and wind power and more conservation over coal, oil and nuclear power," The Charleston Gazette reports.
  • A left-leaning state think tank is raising questions about the value of recent special legislation that will freeze an upcoming scheduled increase to the state's gas tax, The Associated Press reports. The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy calls the move a "short-term solution, and in part cites "similar freezes in Indiana and Illinois, where the bulk of savings from gas taxes went to gasoline vendors in the form of higher profits," the article said.

25 September 2008

Rasmussen: McCain 50%, Obama 42% in W.Va.

Rasmussen Reports surveyed 500 likely voters Wednesday, with 4% undecided and a margin of error of +/- 4.5%.

Among other highlights:

  • 63% viewed McCain favorably, while 61% did for running mate Sarah Palin.
  • Obama garnered only a 50% favorability rating, and Joe Biden only 46%.
  • 54% considered Palin the "right choice," compared with 33% for Biden.
  • Half ranked economic issues as their primary interest regarding the presidential race, followed by 24% for national security.
  • President Bush's favorability rating was 36%, with 49% rating his performance as "poor."

Election 2008 Shorts

  • The Mountain Party's candidate for governor, Jesse Johnson, has been shut out of an Oct. 13 debate hosted by the West Virginia Broadcasters Association, but "hopes to use the courts - or the court of public opinion - to crash the party," The Charleston Gazette reports.
  • Debate inclusion was also the topic of Ralph Nader, an unaffiliated candidate for president, during his Wednesday appearance in Morgantown. The Associated Press and MetroNews have coverage.
  • MetroNews also reports on a visit to Charleston by the " Bush Legacy Tour," a 45-foot bus that seeks to chronicle "what Americans United for Change call the president's failed policies and misdeeds." Bush supporters picketed outside the bus, MetroNews said. The Gazette has photos.
  • Democratic congressional candidate Anne Barth is questioning the pacing and details of the proposed Wall Street bailout legislation now on Capitol Hill, the Charleston Daily Mail reports.
  • Public Broadcasting interview U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-3rd, as he seeks re-election. With audio.
  • U.S. Sen Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., "is applauding the Senate for passing a measure that extends the alternative fuels credit another three years," The Register-Herald of Beckley reports.

They Voted For You: Drilling

All three of West Virginia's U.S. House members voted for a $630 billion government spending bill that would "end a quarter-century ban on oil and natural gas drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts," The Associated Press reports.

The measure passed 370-58 with the help of U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd.

AP reports that extending the oft-debated ban on offshore drilling was kept out of the bill in the face of a veto by President Bush and the specter of a resulting government shutdown.

"The decision to avoid a fight with the White House over offshore drilling marks a major shift by Democrats on energy policy and a reflection that the GOP argument for more domestic energy production had found a support among voters this election year, even though coastal states long have worried that offshore drilling might cause spills, soil beaches and threaten their tourist businesses," the article said.

W.Va. Media: McCain 52%, Obama 41% in W.Va.

The survey of 600 likely voters, conducted "this week" by Orion Strategies for W.Va. Media and W.Va. Wesleyan College, found 51.7% for McCain and 40.7% for Obama.

Another 4.5% said neither and 3.2% were undecided.

When asked about Hillary Clinton, 52% said they would have voted for her.

The poll also found such Democratic incumbents as Gov. Joe Manchin, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller and state Attorney General Darrell McGraw ahead of their GOP challengers.

Update: From the article: "When asked what accurately represents Obama's religious beliefs, 49 percent of those polled believed he was a denomination other than Christian."

24 September 2008

CNN/Time: McCain 50%, Obama 46% in W.Va.

Conducted with Opinion Research Corp., the Sept 21-23 survey of 694 likely voters by telephone found 3% undecided and had a margin of error of +/- 3.5%.

The polling began with 876 registered voters, and also apparently asked about third-party candidates.

That part of the survey broke: McCain 49%, Obama 44%, Nader 5% and McKinney 1%.

CNN has a story on the results and that of other state polls.

Presidential Campaigns Scramble over Coal (Updated)

Republican John McCain and Democratic Barack Obama are each trying to assure voters that they support "clean coal," The Charleston Gazette reports.

After McCain recently expressed qualms about mountaintop removal mining, his campaign was joined by Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and fellow Republicans to attack the other ticket on the topic.

In a Tuesday conference call with reporters, the group seized on comments made by Obama running mate Joe Biden at an Ohio campaign appearance.

Biden said "We're not supporting 'clean coal," and "No coal plants here in America," when asked about the issue.

The Obama campaign has sought to explain Biden's comments, while touting its proposal "to invest $150 billion over 10 years on a variety of energy programs - everything from plug-in hybrid vehicles to biofuels and 'low-emissions coal plants,'" the article said.

The McCain-Capito conference call, meanwhile, touted the need to protect coal jobs. "But both (campaigns) provide few details for their plans, and have not explained how they would overcome a long history of hurdles that have hampered the government's clean-coal program for decades," the article said.

The Gazette had earlier noted that both McCain and Obama had "agreed that mountaintop removal coal mining should be stopped," but that "no one really attacked them for saying so."\

Update: The Charleston Daily Mail follows up with reaction from West Virginia Democrats to Biden's comments. MetroNews does as well, with a separate item (and audio) quoting Obama's in-state director.

MetroNews also reports on the McCain-Capito coalition, while offering audio of Biden's remarks.

Manchin on Bloomberg

Gov. Joe Manchin talked to the financial news network about West Virginia's economy, the current Wall Street crisis and the federal administration's proposed bailout.

23 September 2008

Election 2008: Tuesday Roundup

  • For the first time since the May primary, Republican John McCain attracted more West Virginia cash than Democrat Barack Obama last month, The Associated Press reports.
  • AP also reports that a National Rifle Association film crew sought to include West Virginia miners in a national anti-Obama ad campaign deemed false by FactCheck.org. Alleging the NRA tried to coerce its members into "bad-mouthing" their endorsed candidate, the United Mine Workers Union has called for a localized work stoppage for next week in protest. MetroNews also has an item, with audio.
  • The State Elections Commission has balked at certifying additional touch-screen voting machines that had been ordered by Ohio, Hancock and Summers counties, The Charleston Gazette reports. The manufacturer had said "the new machines have different parts than the machines ordered by the state in advance of the 2006 elections."
  • Democratic Congressional candidate Anne Barth stumped in the 2nd District's Eastern Panhandle corner, with the help of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., The Journal of Martinsburg reports.
  • (Update) All three candidates for state Supreme Court opined on its workload and other topics before the editorial board of the Charleston Daily Mail.

More on W.Va. Foreclosures

After finding five times as many foreclosure sales in West Virginia as had been reported by a national marketing outfit, The Charleston Gazette reports that "big out-of-state lenders carried out" most of them.

In comparison, West Virginia community banks foreclose rarely, Joe Ellison, CEO of the West Virginia Banking Association, told the newspaper.

Large national lenders hold the majority of the state's mortgages, the article said.

Public Broadcasting has details from The Gazette's weekend special report on foreclosures, with audio.

The Associated Press, meanwhile, reports that "West Virginians pay the lowest housing costs in the country," with a median monthly housing cost of $881 compared to the national median of $1,464.

But the the state's median income level is also low, as is the value of its housing stock. "West Virginia tied Mississippi for the lowest median home value, at $96,000, while Hawaii had the highest, at $555,400," the article said. "The national average was $194,300."

22 September 2008

Election 2008: Governor

While race has emerged as an issue among state residents in the presidential contest, "quietly, discreetly, with practically no one paying attention, the West Virginia gubernatorial race has swept away the last remnants of some old and ugly notions," The Associated Press reports.

"For the first time ever, both major party candidates for the office are Roman Catholics, members of a church whose members make up barely 4 percent of West Virginia's population," AP's Tom Breen reports. "(Gov Joe) Manchin, the first Catholic elected governor of the state, is running for a second term against former Raleigh County state Sen. Russ Weeks, a fellow Catholic."

Their shared faith also contributes to their views on such issues as abortion, though "Weeks argues Manchin should do more to limit the procedure, such as supporting legislation to reduce Medicaid funding for abortions."

West Virginia's Hidden Foreclosure Problem

Nearly 4,500 West Virginia homes and properties were amid or beginning foreclosure proceedings last year, a rate that puts it in the middle third of states, according to Mortgage Bankers Association figures cited by The Charleston Gazette.

The numbers starkly contrast often-cited figures from online foreclosure marketer RealtyTrac, which had ranked West Virginia as the third-lowest for foreclosure sales, counting just 473 that year.

"That ranking is widely cited by state officials," The Gazette said. "Lobbyists have used it at the Legislature to help kill anti-predatory mortgage proposals, arguing that it proves West Virginia has no foreclosure problem. Federal dollars for housing relief are increasingly keyed to foreclosure rate."

But the actual rate of foreclosure sales is at least five times higher, the newspaper found, after it collected numbers from the state's 55 county clerk's offices to find that "at least 2,550 West Virginia homes and businesses were sold in foreclosure in 2007."

That equals about one out of every 344 housing units in the state (or about one out of every 217 owner-occupied housing units, according to Census estimates; either figure reflects less than 1 percent of total or owner-occupied units)

The article notes that "the courthouse count does not include homes lost to bankruptcy, homes sold or given back to the bank to avoid bankruptcy, mortgages tied up in court proceedings or, for the most part, mobile homes."

RealtyTrac explains that as it starts with the most densely populated counties to perform its research, "West Virginia - and other sparsely populated rural states - are low priority."

"West Virginia's foreclosure situation, while it's not terrible, is not as good as everybody has been claiming it to be," Edward Prescott, vice president of research for the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank, told The Gazette. "It's generally in the middle."

The Gazette's special report also offers a map with county-by-county details, a graphic the highlights RealtyTrac's underreporting, and a chart showing a doubling of mortgages since 2000. There's also audio.

Weathering Wall Street

The most recent figures from West Virginia's investment portfolio suggest that "the estimated exposure from stocks in the likes of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers and AIG amounted to $10.9 million by Friday's market closing," The Associated Press reports.

That's a fraction of a percent of the state's more than $11.2 billion in invested assets, and the state Investment Management Board has told Gov. Joe Manchin and other state officials that its widely diversified holdings help insulate from such turmoil.

"That is important in times like this, because diversification is the primary means of protection for a long-term investor when markets go south." Craig Slaughter, the board's executive director, told AP, adding that ""We also know that the U.S. economy is not going to be in a permanent recession. There will eventually be a recovery, and you have to be invested in the markets when that happens to accrue the benefits."

The article also notes that this month's tumult among Wall Street institutions "comes on the heels of a disappointing fiscal year for West Virginia's investments. The year ended in June with a $643 million decline in portfolio assets, a 6 percent loss. The target had been, and remains, a 7.5 percent return on investment."

Echoes of Keystone

West Virginia is home to the nation's 12th failure of a federally insured bank so far this year, The Associated Press reports.

"Federal regulators have shut down Ameribank Inc.," based in McDowell County, "saying it overextended loans for the rehabilitation of distressed properties," AP reports.

Appointed receiver of the bank, The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. "said Friday the bank's insured deposits will be assumed by Pioneer Community Bank Inc. of Iaeger, W.Va., and Citizens Savings Bank in Martins Ferry, Ohio," the article said.

The Charleston Gazette notes that Ameribank had previously taken the assets and branch offices of The First National Bank of Keystone, which "collapsed after federal investigators discovered massive embezzlement and risky investments there" in 1999.

"No one is accusing Ameribank officials of wrongdoing, but risky investments brought down both banks," The Gazette added.

Keystone remains among the top-1o worst U.S. failures to tap the U.S. Bank Insurance Fund. Three top executives were convicted and sentenced to lengthy federal prison terms. They included the then-longtime mayor of Keystone, the late Billie Cherry, whose former properties outside Keystone are the subject of an entirely different Gazette article.

21 September 2008

Race, West Virginia and the Quest for the Presidency

Marshall University hosted a weekend forum on race and politics that explored the possibility that West Virginians rejected Barack Obama in May -- and will do so again in November -- because he is black.

Panelists included former Delegate Arley Johnson, D-Cabell, who "advised the Obama campaign after the primary that to bring the candidate back to West Virginia would be a waste of time," The Associated Press reported.

The article said Johnson and "other panelists said the primary laid bare the uncomfortable fact that many West Virginians will never vote for a black presidential candidate simply because of his race."

But AP's Tom Breen also noted that "About 50 miles away, state Democratic Party Chairman Nick Casey was roaring out at a crowd of party faithful at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Charleston, 'Do you have a problem voting for him because he's part black?,' to which the crowd yelled back, 'No!'"

And the Herald-Dispatch, in covering the Marshall forum, reported that some panelists "spoke about the education levels of West Virginians:"

Gerald Beller of West Virginia State University said the determining factor in Sen. Hillary Clinton's easy win over Obama in the state's Democratic primary was voters' education levels. When Clinton campaigned in the state, she reinforced her connection with the white working class, Beller said.

The younger generation with either a college or high school diploma has favored Obama while Clinton received strong support from the white working class. West Virginia, Beller said, is not unique in its voting preferences.

But the Huntington newspaper cited comments as well from panelist Simon Perry of Marshall, who said three forms of racism, "blatant, modern and invisible, "all affect the perception of Obama in the state.

Meanwhile, AP is reporting on its national poll conducted with Yahoo News and Stanford University, which "found one-third of white Democrats harbor negative views toward blacks — many calling them 'lazy,' 'violent,' responsible for their own troubles."

The survey "suggests that the percentage of voters who may turn away from Obama because of his race could easily be larger than the final difference between the candidates in 2004 — about two and one-half percentage points.," that AP article said.

An accompanying graphic charts the findings that "more than a third of all white Democrats and independents — voters Obama can't win the White House without — agreed with at least one negative adjective about blacks, according to the survey, and they are significantly less likely to vote for Obama than those who don't have such views. "

The article notes further that "Republican John McCain has his own obstacles," listing several, and notes that "lots of Republicans harbor prejudices, too, but the survey found they weren't voting against Obama because of his race. Most Republicans wouldn't vote for any Democrat for president — white, black or brown. "

Politico has also tackled the race factor. Noting the AP poll results and some of the reactions to it, it reports that "the national conversation appears to have arrived. Racial considerations that have long been palpable in southern Ohio and other crucial regions are again in the foreground."

Politico has a separate article more focused on the poll results.

Election 2008: Roundup

  • Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and other high-profile Democrats sought to drum up enthusiasm for presidential nominee Barack Obama and other candidates on the party's ticket in West Virginia, during Saturday's annual Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner. Those with coverage include The Associated Press and The Charleston Gazette.
  • The Gazette reported earlier that "fewer tickets sold for this year's Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner and the lack of a national candidate as speaker at the dinner don't mean national Democrats are writing off West Virginia this year."
  • Public Broadcasting set the stage for the weekend's forum on race and politics by asking random West Virginians "who do you support for president and what do you like and dislike about Obama and the GOP candidate, Senator John McCain." The resulting article drew from 12 of those interviews that "represent the people we met. Seven supported McCain, four wanted Obama, and one was leaning toward McCain but basically undecided. The reasons they give are as complex and varied as the people of our region." With audio.
  • ABC News talked to Mountain State residents earlier in the week to ask them their views on the presidential contest, and also offers video. MetroNews noted the national visit.
  • (Update) The Register-Herald of Beckley takes an early look at pre-election voter registration figures, and notes the growing ranks of the unaffiliated.