Somewhere in my collection of political artifacts is a reminder of what happens when parties divide among themselves. It is a bumper sticker with a foot on the side with the legend "Tar Heel Democrat."
Issued in 1972 and again in 1984, it was an attempt to decouple the state party from the national slates led by George McGovern and Walter Mondale respectively. Considered to be necessary because the unpopularity of both standard bearers, it nevertheless turned out to be disastrous. Eventually, Republicans began to make gains at all levels, not only federal, but state and local.
West Virginia Democrats also have decided to go down the same path. Predictably, they place it on a sticker "W.Va. Dems Getting The Job Done" with a hardhat for emphasis. Understandably, they fear that President Barack Obama is a liability. He had 41 percent of the vote cast against him in the primary, given perhaps unwittingly to a convict. His favorability rating is the lowest of any state. Sen. Joe Manchin and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin have been loudly speculating that they may not vote for him again, perhaps correct in regard to their fears. But is it smart?
Given the past it is not. The theory in North Carolina was that the Democratic Party still held the imagination of voters in most offices but the presidency. Sure, in 1968 Democrats won re-election statewide despite the 28 percent Hubert Humphrey got. However, in many minds, George Wallace was a "Dixiecrat" the representative of the traditional party. By 1972, however, no such third force existed, and McGovern received 29 percent. But some voters chose Republicans downticket. Jesse Helms won the Senate and James Holshouser took the governor's office. In 1984, Ronald Reagan easily swept the state and Jesse Helms defeated a super-politician Jim Hunt for re-election.
Still, Democrats played duck and cover. Eventually, Republicans chipped away, taking Senate seats and by 2010 the N.C. Legislature - both houses. Now the GOP competes for local offices with alacrity defeating so-called conservative Democrats because they're not as far to the right as Republicans. Why vote for a substitute when you can get the real thing?
West Virginia Democrats risk a great deal if they completely abandon the national ticket. Perhaps anything slightly more than 40 percent for Obama can make it easier for Democrats to hold the statehouse and the Senate. As well as to denounce the president is to place suspicion on themselves. John Raese who understands this point better than anyone else has been busily pointing out Manchin's inconsistencies. If a Democrat dislikes his national party so much, then how can he remain credible? For Republicans this is a pleasant dilemma which one suspects they will take full advantage of.
Manchin, Tomblin and the rest are acting like panic-stricken bomber pilots who break formation at the first appearance of enemy fighters. After they are scattered, they become easy prey for GOP pilots. Better to say nothing about Obama than take a negative position. Again, Republicans will correctly claim that they are the real conservatives in the rose - and make voters understand the difference.
Raese and Bill Maloney are running campaigns based on less government - period. Manchin and Tomblin support benefits and more state-driven initiatives. They might despise the Environmental Protection Agency, but they push a business-progressive agenda. The Republicans can say away with all that and remain true to themselves. Although Raese can be clumsy at times - he at least is on-point and says what he thinks. Given that Democrats in the Mountain State apparently heartily dislike their national party - they make the point for the GOP that they haven't a clue. Benjamin Franklin, during the American Revolution, made a salient point when he warned waverers that, "We will all hang together" or "hang separately." Imperfect, if not sincere, unity is better than letting the opposition see you sweat.