Something interesting happened a few days ago. Some leaders of Mountaineers for Responsible Government, a local "tea party" organization, made it clear they are supporting Republican candidates in the November election. Democrats at all levels had been hoping that wouldn't happen.
They had some cause for confidence. The tea party movement's basic concern is the sorry state of fiscal affairs in the United States - and in many of the individual states. Perhaps because the Republican administration of former President George W. Bush had a lousy record in that regard (with support from quite a few GOP members of Congress), many tea party advocates are far from sold on the party of Lincoln.
On the national level, Democrats had worked hard to deepen the schism between tea party conservatives and Republican Party conservatives. The more tea partiers who stay home on Nov. 6, the fewer votes will be cast against President Barack Obama.
Of course, the logical strategy for tea partiers is to join hands with the Republican establishment. The alternative is four more years of Obama - and no fiscal conservative likes that idea. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's decision to make U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., his running mate helps. Many tea partiers like Ryan for his leadership on budget discipline and entitlement reform.
What of the outlook here in West Virginia? Tea partiers - both Democrats and Republicans - will play an important role in state-level elections, too.
Democrat Party leaders waste few opportunities to criticize the tea party movement. Foolishly, they believe that because they are tax-and-spend liberals, other Democrats must be, too.
That's a misreading of many Democrats, particularly those in West Virginia. Does Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., not understand why Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is so popular here? It's in large measure because Manchin is a fiscal conservative, and many Democrat voters here like that. In fact, they demand it.
Obama will lose big in West Virginia. Fellow Democrat Manchin is expected to win.
For conservative Democrats to make that happen, many will have to abandon a practice the party encourages: straight-ticket voting. That will force conservative Democrats to look down the ballot and, for a change, actually choose between candidates of their party and Republicans.
That will help some Republicans seeking state offices, including Bill Maloney for governor, Pat Morrisey for attorney general and Kent Leonhardt for agriculture commissioner.
The agriculture commissioner's job has been a Democrat lock for decades because of Gus Douglass. But he's retiring - and I've been told by reliable sources that some influential Democrats prefer Leonhardt over their party's candidate, Walt Helmick.
As for the attorney general race, the incumbent, Darrell McGraw, won the last two elections by relatively narrow margins. It won't take too many Democrats abandoning him this year for him to lose.
Then there's the matter of turnout. Expect it to be better than usual for Republicans. After decades in which Democrats had the better get-out-the-vote machinery, the Mountain State GOP finally is improving its game, using techniques such as phone banks.
Turnout may be lower for Democrats. Here's why: The more conservative among them may decide they just can't vote for Obama. But they are still Democrats, so some may conclude they can't bring themselves to vote for a Republican, either. And because far too many voters of both parties seem to think the only race that matters is president, some of those Democrats will stay home on Election Day.
That could be especially bad news for two Democrats, incumbent Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and McGraw. Both may lose Democrat voters in the southern coalfields - and both rely on those very people to overcome vote tallies that haven't gone their way elsewhere in the state.
In other words, this is a good year to be a Republican in West Virginia.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Mike Myer is executive editor of The Intelligencer and the Wheeling News-Register. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com