Democrats Look to Maintain in the Mountain State

"Almost heaven, West Virginia," sang John Denver. But if Gov. Joe Manchin loses the Senate race to Republican businessman John Raese, West Virginia could be almost hell for the Democrats -- "almost," because they'll likely be teetering on the edge with a 51-seat majority. Fortunately for Democrats, Republicans' "hicky" ad and Manchin's awesome target practice ad seem to have turned the tides in the governor's favor. Either way, it's going to be a razor-thin margin of victory.

West Virginia used to be as solidly Democratic as anywhere in America. In the 2008 primary, Hillary Clinton alluded to this legacy when she told a Clear Fork crowd, "Democrats don't get elected president unless West Virginia votes for you. And everybody knows West Virginia has picked presidents pretty accurately over the last years." She went on to give John F. Kennedy as an example of a Democrat who "had West Virginia behind him."

But what Clinton didn't acknowledge is that "wild, wonderful" West Virginia isn't so wild for Democratic candidates for federal office these days. For reference, Lyndon B. Johnson won the state with 538,087 raw votes in 1964, but in 2008, Barack Obama received only 301,438 -- nearly half.

Clinton was also way off about West Virginia picking "presidents pretty accurately." In fact, the state has picked the loser in the past seven presidential elections, an unrivaled streak among states. "If you had planted yourself [in West Virginia] during the past few decades and never left the state, you would have thought that the first George Bush and the only Barack Obama had no chance of becoming president," wrote Robert David Sullivan.

So maybe West Virginia isn't a great predictor of what's going to happen in the 2010 midterms. Maybe it's just in a league of its own. But if the map below tells us anything, it's that the state has been friendly to home-grown Democrats throughout the years.

The map is from Dave Leip's Political Atlas, which, though the best resource for past election unfortunately decided a long time ago that Democrats should be red and Republicans should be blue. Therefore, you may have to trick your mind into looking at the inverse colors when looking at the map.

West Virginia Electoral Maps, 1972-2006