West Virginia Republicans have taken over a piece of election high ground that has been dominated historically by the Democrats: straight ticket voting.
A Republican strategist working on the 2014 election, who asked that his name not be used, has forwarded me a county-by-county list of straight ticket voting by party from the 2012 General Election.
The list includes 52 of the 55 counties. Summers County is still out, as are Braxton and Wyoming, which use paper ballots and do not count straight ticket ballots.
Still for the 52 that have checked in, the numbers show 87,323 Republican straight ticket ballots compared with 82,539 Democrat. 3,765 voted straight ticket either Mountain Party or Libertarian. So Republicans held a 50.3 percent to 47.5 percent advantage in straight ticket voting in 2012 in those counties.
What’s perhaps more interesting is the number of counties that switched from having a majority of Democratic straight ticket voters to Republican.
According to the figures I’ve seen, 26 of the 53 reporting counties had a higher percentage of straight ticket Republican voters. In 2010, only 16 of those 53 counties had more Republican straight ticket ballots.
Twelve counties (Barbour, Greenbrier, Marshall, Mercer, Nicholas, Pendleton, Pleasants, Raleigh, Roane, Taylor, Tucker and Wirt) flipped from D to R on straight ticket ballots. One county, Jefferson, went the other way.
One of the most notable switches was Raleigh County. In 2010, 53 percent of the straight ticket ballots were Democrat and 46 percent Republican, but in the last election 57 percent were Republican and 42 percent we Democrat.
Republicans are also buoyed by some of the other figures.
For example, Harrison County, a traditional Democratic stronghold, still held an advantage in straight ticket voting in 2012 (50.7 percent to 46.8 percent), but the gap was significantly narrower than just two years before (58.5 percent to 40.2 percent).
In Mercer County, there appears to have been a stunning shift. In 2010, straight ticket votes were evenly split with a slight advantage going to the Democrats (49.8 percent to 48.3 percent). But in 2012, the Republican Party received 60 percent of the straight ticket votes.
These numbers should worry down ballot Democratic candidates, who have benefited substantially over the years from a significant registration advantage and a strong vote getter at the top of the ticket.
Consider for example, that in the 2006 General Election, with Senator Robert Byrd on the ballot, Democrats collected 105,000 straight ticket votes, compared with just 50,000 for the Republicans.
Now, the number of straight ticket votes is essentially a split between the two parties with a slight edge going to the Republicans, even though Democrats continue to hold a 52 percent to 29 percent advantage in registration.
As a general rule, Democratic candidates in West Virginia still begin with a distinct advantage. However, Republicans, who historically have faced mountainous obstacles, are now finding the challenge is more of a manageable hill.