By MANNIX PORTERFIELD
for the Daily Telegraph
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
Joe Manchin’s popularity has dipped to the point only 43 percent of West Virginians now approve of his job performance.
Secretary of State Natalie Tennant would give Rep. Shelley Moore Capito a strong run for her money if the two met in next year’s U.S. Senate race.
West Virginians are trending toward conservatism, strongly disapprove of President Obama and aren’t very optimistic about the economy.
On the sports beat, this is still Cincinnati Reds country, and few people think Mountaineer football coach Dana Holgorsen can get the task done.
Those and other insights were unveiled Friday by Rex Repass, president of R.L. Repass & Partners Inc., a research outfit, in the annual “West Virginia Poll” at the conclusion of the three-day business summit held by the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce at The Greenbrier.
“The electorate is extremely frustrated and disgusted with the political process today,” Repass told his audience.
Congress gains an approval rating of a paltry 9 percent, he noted.
“There’s also a sense that an individual’s vote doesn’t count,” Repass.
Manchin incurred the wrath of the National Rifle Association over his failed attempt to enhance background checks when firearms are purchased, then gained some negative media attention when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg hosted a $1,000 per ticket fundraiser for him in the Big Apple.
“Looking at the data carefully, this may be a blip,” Repass cautioned.
“Public opinion is a snapshot in time. This survey was done over an eight-day period. His approval ratings are down. He’s been hit very hard this summer with NRA ads with heavy media placement and it’s had some impact. I don’t expect that to be the case long term.”
In contrast, another Democrat heavyweight, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, enjoys a 2-to-1 favorable ration between approval and disapproval.
Ditto for Capito, but in her future, the scenario gets interesting in a hypothetical battle between her and Tennant, who corralled some 400,000 votes in a futile bid to become governor last year.
Tennant hasn’t tipped her hand, yet, but on the popular social medium Facebook, many have been pushing her candidacy to succeed the retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who also has an approval rating in the 50-plus percent range, Repass pointed out.
“Capito has a strong lead, but Tennant has high-name awareness,” Repass said.
His poll showed that 45 percent would stick with Capito in a Senate showdown, but Tennant, as of now, has a strong 40 percent backing.
On one issue, there is clearly no doubt — that West Virginia love their athletic teams.
“This is a sports crazy state,” Repass told chamber members and guests.
“Almost 70 percent are fans.”
Holgorsen doesn’t need the voters to keep his clipboard and whistle, and it’s good his job isn’t political — at least for now.
The Repass poll shows only 24 percent are “a lot confident” he can turn the West Virginia University football program into a success, while 44 percent are “somewhat” confident and 15 percent believe he is incapable. Other respondents were uncertain.
“You hear a lot on talk radio and see on blogs, how much confidence the public, the sports fans, have in Dana Holgorsen to lead a successful WVU football program,” said Repass, himself a former tight end for Marshall University’s Thundering Herd.
“Year one, pretty good. Year two, not so much. Those timelines with coaches today are getting shorter and shorter.”
Forty-five percent answering the poll are loyal Reds fans, while the Pittsburgh Pirates claim 40 percent, and the remaining 15 percent are divided among other teams.
“West Virginia is more conservative than the country,” he said, while moderates are in a plurality.
Even with the trend to the right, Repass, state residents are less likely than the national average to favor a GOP-run Congress.
Demographics are ever-changing, and the New Deal Democrats are either in their sunset years or simply gone, he said.
“But West Virginia still has a strong Democratic Party base,” he said.
Voters also prefer that Democrats maintain control of the state Legislature.
Obama’s standing with West Virginians stands at 28 percent, while 65 percent strongly disapprove of his job performance.
“Most West Virginians generally have more confidence in the governor to help lead or solve public education problems,” Repass said, turning to that issue, in which 8 percent feel the state is on the right track.
Moreover, the confidence level in county school boards is also low, and opinions were about evenly divided on the value of teacher unions to make things better.
Eight percent of West Virginians have health care, and two-thirds believe costs will go up once the Affordable Health Care Act’s full impact is felt.
Polling is a multi-million-dollar industry in West Virginia, and about $9.5 billion nationally, Repass said.
For this poll, which has been conducted since 1980, more than 50,000 state residents participated.
“It’s non-partisan, although we are criticized by one party or another,” he said.
“If you’re getting criticized by Democrats and Republicans, you might be doing something right.”