Politics may not have much in common with physics, but it does have its own version of Newton’s Third Law; an action by a candidate—or events—can produce a reaction that will affect the race.
For example, consider Booth Goodwin’s entry into the race for the Democratic nomination for Governor. Now voters will have three viable candidates instead of two. The size of the pie (likely voters) is approximately the same, but there are more pieces.
Jim Justice’s polling firm, Global Strategy Group, found during a survey early last month that in a Democratic Primary race between Justice and Jeff Kessler, Justice held a 48-25 advantage, with 27 percent undecided.
The numbers shift when Goodwin’s name is included in the question–39 percent for Justice, 19 percent for Kessler, 13 percent for Goodwin and 29 percent unsure. Justice’s pollster, Jefrey Pollock, is not bothered by his candidate’s drop, believing the three-way dynamic gives Justice the advantage.
“With Jim Justice at 39 percent it is more than reasonable to assume that 40 percent of the vote would absolutely win the Democratic Primary with multiple candidates,” Pollock said on Metronews Talkline Tuesday.
Clearly, Justice helped himself by running introductory TV ads last fall. His ability to air positive ads that go unchallenged by an opponent established his brand early before the opposition had a chance to define him.
The impact of Goodwin’s entry cannot be fully known yet. The Global Strategy Group poll was taken a month before Goodwin filed his pre-candidacy papers. Can the former U.S. Attorney quickly raise the money to mount the kind of campaign necessary to win? If Goodwin starts to gain momentum, will his support undercut Kessler or Justice?
The Justice campaign believes the more the merrier, as long as Justice maintains a healthy lead, the rest of the candidates are just dividing up the non-Justice vote.
Still, the Justice camp must see warning clouds on the horizon, even if their candidate does get past the Primary. West Virginia’s rapid transition to a red state has created significant headwinds for Democrats.
The Metronews West Virginia Poll last September found that in the generic ballot, West Virginians favored a Republican over a Democrat in the Governor’s race 37 percent to 34 percent, with 29 percent opting not to make a choice.
Politico and National Journal, in their latest gubernatorial race rankings, both rated West Virginia as the state most likely to flip from Democrat to Republican.
In the Presidential race, Democrats have already written off West Virginia along with much of the south. When I asked Pollock if Justice would welcome Hillary Clinton to West Virginia on a campaign swing, he replied coyly that a visit by Bill Clinton would be great.
While the Primary is quickly approaching (May 10th), and the 2016 Governor’s race has taken shape earlier than usual, there’s still time for action… and reaction.