For many years, despite his enormous unpopularity among most West Virginians, state Attorney General Darrell McGraw has managed to stay in office - barely - thanks to the strength of the renowned McGraw machine in southern counties. But McGraw's time may be up in the Nov. 6 election, because of his running mate - President Barack Obama.
Obama may well be the most disliked president in history among Mountain State residents, and with good reason. His war on coal threatens to devastate West Virginia (and hurt tens of millions of families throughout the country). Because of its mandate to expand Medicaid, "Obamacare" could result in higher state taxes.
Attorneys general run for re-election by themselves, of course, with no running mates on the ballot. But McGraw will be - and should be - linked strongly with Obama in voters' minds.
Here's why: After the national health care law, "Obamacare," was enacted, officials in 26 states joined in a lawsuit seeking to have the statute overturned in court. McGraw kept West Virginia out of the action, despite the law's unpopularity among many residents of our state.
It didn't even seem to matter to McGraw that "Obamacare" included a provision allowing the federal government to punish states financially if they didn't go along with expansion of Medicaid. The U.S. Supreme Court voided that provision.
Then there's Obama's war on coal. Earlier this year it became apparent an Environmental Protection Agency proposal, the so-called "MACT Rule," would hurt the mining industry - and all consumers of electric power from coal-fired generating plants - badly. McGraw had to be directed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to make West Virginia a party to a multi-state court action challenging the plan, according to a published report.
That won't go over well in the southern West Virginia coalfields, which rescued McGraw from defeat in the 2004 and 2008 elections.
McGraw's weakness is apparent from a look at 2000, 2004 and 2008 election returns.
In 2000, his machine's reputation was so fearsome the Republican Party couldn't find a candidate to run against him. Yet, in effect, 183,000 people still voted against him. Running unopposed, McGraw garnered 465,047 votes. Yet in the same election, a total of 648,047 votes were cast in the governor's race. Many West Virginians, having checked off their preferences for governor, just couldn't bring themselves to vote at all for attorney general when they saw McGraw was the only choice.
In 2004, McGraw won re-election by squeaking past Republican Hiram Lewis, 359,491 to 353,473. That's a margin of just 6,018 votes.
In 2008, the margin narrowed. McGraw, with 342,011 votes, defeated Daniel Greear, with 336,699 votes.
Many Mountain State voters, both Democrat and Republican, simply don't like the way McGraw uses his office for his own benefit. They don't like it when he hires out-of-state lawyers to handle legal affairs, and they like it less when they find out the attorneys in question contribute to McGraw's re-election campaigns.
They don't like it when McGraw collects millions of dollars for the state - then refuses to turn it over to the treasury, instead keeping it for his office's use.
They don't like it when he mishandles affairs to the point it threatens to cost the state Medicaid program millions of dollars.
To all that, voters now can add the fact that McGraw seems to be an ally of Barack Obama.
And this year, the Republicans have fielded a top-notch candidate for attorney general. He is Patrick Morrisey, an experienced attorney who has lived in Harpers Ferry since 2006.
How worried is McGraw? It is no coincidence that earlier this year, McGraw opened an attorney general satellite office in Martinsburg, just up the road from Harpers Ferry.
Morrisey and McGraw are worlds apart on many issues. A key one this fall will be that Morrisey doesn't support Obama.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Mike Myer is executive editor of The Intelligencer and the Wheeling News-Register. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org