It is the best of time and it is the worst of times to be a progressive in northern West Virginia. The good news is that in an increasingly conservative state and in the midst of a potential Republican "wave" nationally, I might go to bed tomorrow night with a Democratic victory in both the House and the Senate races. The bad news? Both candidates are blue dogs to say the least.
Oliverio has already unseated the incumbent congressman from my district, Alan Mollohan. How did he do it? By going hard to Mollohan's right. He attacked Mollohan on two issues in particular. The first was Mollohan's tepid comments suggesting he might support some version of cap and trade in the future. According to Oliverio, that made Mollohan an enemy of coal (no invitation to the Friends of Coal Bowl for you!) and a danger to West Virginia. Then he said Mollohan was wrong to support "Obamacare" and hit him over the head with that, too. Oliverio tied Mollohan to the "Obama-Pelosi-Reid" agenda. And it worked. Oliverio won the Democratic primary in West Virginia by acting like a Republican.
His strategy, in my opinion, is coming back to bite him in the butt. He basically wrote the playbook for his Republican opponent David McKinley's campaign. In fact, McKinley's message largely echoes that of West Virginia Senate candidate John Raese. Both are painting their opponents as "rubber stamps for Barack Obama." Oh, how I wish they were right. In fact, though, I have two congressional candidates who are far to the right of a president who is slightly to the right of me. Not very inspiring, huh?
But I still voted for Oliverio and Manchin and I would gladly do so again. Because even though these candidates are blue dogs far to my right, the choice West Virginia progressives have right now in this election is between a guy really far to the right of them...and a guy way to the right of that guy!
In fact, John Raese has claimed that even the Tea Party, yes, that Tea Party, is "a little left of me." We're talking about a guy who wants to abolish the minimum wage and the Departments of Education and Energy. Not cut back. Not lower. Abolish. See, the government is spending way too much money. And we need to save at least $20 billion for the desperately needed 1,000 space lasers to protect us from harm. That's not a joke. He was dead serious when he said it. You can watch him say it. Then watch it a couple more times because it gets funnier (and scarier) each time you watch it.
(I really wish they had included Mini-Me humping the laser after "That's what I call a stimulus".)
In the House race here in northern West Virginia, Oliverio's opponent is the worst kind of Republican hypocrite. He's just the kind of guy that you might read about in David Cay Johnston's Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense. You see, in practice, McKinley is all for redistribution of wealth via government "handouts." In fact, he has amassed most of his personal fortune by obtaining government contracts for his engineering firm. Businessman David McKinley is even a huge fan of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the "stimulus" bill. Just listen to his company's web site sing its praises, then scroll down further to see all the government projects funded through "taxing and spending" that he proudly lists along with it.
Of course, out on the campaign trail and on his own campaign website he decries the stimulus plan as a total failure that only wasted money. Check out a few of his other issue positions and you will see why I found it important to cast my vote for Mike Oliverio, blue dog though he may be. But if McKinley's hypocrisy and other issue positions don't convince you, consider the one issue that may be more important than any other--his vote for House Speaker. McKinley will most definitely vote for John Boehner. Mike Oliverio has "admitted" that he would vote for "even" Nancy Pelosi. I know, not a stirring endorsement. But it is a major selling point if you don't think there's a difference between these two candidates.
The main point I want to make with all of this is that even a blue dog is vastly preferable to a hypocritical wingnut to the right of the Tea Party. That much should be obvious to anyone. So if you live in West Virginia and haven't voted already, get out there and VOTE DEMOCRATIC. Both of these races are extremely close. A handful of votes could swing the district and the state and in doing so the entire Congress. Your vote does matter and it does make a difference. And there IS a difference. I hate having to choose the lesser of two evils on election day, but the lesser of two evils is still LESS EVIL! Urge your friends to get out there and vote as well. You can call people here.
But there is another point I want to make moving forward. We need to change the political climate in West Virginia so that Democrats do not have to dress themselves in conservative clothing anymore (heck, forget the clothing, many of them have become conservatives altogether!). West Virginia Democrats still outnumber registered Republicans by a nearly 2 to 1 margin. Support for labor is very strong here. This state even voted for Mike Dukakis in a presidential election not that long ago. This is something that is doable. As I see it, though, there are a few major obstacles and I only want to point out one--local media.
I tried to get my local newspaper, the Wheeling News-Register, to report on McKinley's hypocrisy regarding his company's support for a stimulus bill that he has opposed as a candidate. They never touched it. I tried writing my own letter to the editor on the issue with ample sourcing and quoting and without much vitriol. They wouldn't publish it. I tried the local TV stations. No luck. I finally gave the information to the Oliverio campaign, and they apparently made similar efforts last week to get this some attention. The only paper in the state that published this story, though, was the Charleston Gazette. There is only one major problem with that--Charleston' isn't in the first district! The only people reading about this issue can't vote in this race.
The News-Register and Intelligencer in Wheeling are owned and operated by the Ogden company, owned by the Nutting family. (I wonder if any of them have "Wing" for a middle name.) This is a newspaper chain that is infamous for having a near monopoly on small town newspapers in certain areas of the country, West Virginia chief among them and for it's repetition of right-wing talking points. I could send my letter across the river to the Times-Leader, for example, except that it's owned by the same company! And the other newspapers in northern West Virginia, like Morgantown's Dominion Post, are owned by companies that are even more conservative. The local Wheeling TV station is a CBS station but it is also a Fox station--WTRF (CBS) and WTRF (Fox Ohio Valley) are the same company. And they are headed by a man who thinks the kind of Catholicism espoused on EWTN is a good thing.
My problem is this--I have just given you one example of a legitimate news story that no one in the local media will touch even when all the work is already done for them. How, then, are local people to get important information about local issues and candidates that hasn't been filtered by media outlets with an adamantly conservative agenda? Sure, there is the internet and I am hopeful that some of my fellow West Virginians may have read my own blogs on the issue. But for many people, their local newspaper and local news broadcasts are still the sources they trust for local news. Having something come from local people is still very important in small town America, in part because of a mistrust of what the national media does and in part because the national media so rarely talks about us anyway. MSNBC was a bit of an answer to Fox News nationally, but what do we have locally?
So my second point and parting question is this: how do we build progressive (or even centrist) media institutions in the small towns of northern West Virginia? Can we compete with the wing-Nuttings of the world? Can we create a climate where a candidate can run as a true progressive in West Virginia again? What are the steps that need to be taken in order to achieve that goal? This is vitally important looking ahead to 2012, 2014 and beyond.
The choice is obvious in tomorrow's election--Mike Oliverio and Joe Manchin are light-years better than David McKinley and John Raese even without a thousand space lasers. But how do we make tomorrow's choice better?