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Tomblin May Face Tougher Issues During Next Term

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Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin gets to keep his title a little bit longer.

Tomblin, a Democrat, was elected to his first full term as governor Nov. 6, beating out Republican challenger Bill Maloney 50 percent to 46 percent. Tomblin had served as acting governor, then a year as governor following the death of Sen. Robert C. Byrd and two special elections. Political observers agree that Tomblin's one-year "try out" proved to voters he has what it takes to be governor.

"I think its interesting the governor did not have a close race this time, unlike last year," George Carenbauer, an attorney with Steptoe and Johnson and political expert, said in reference to last year's special gubernatorial election. "He has been a full governor for the past year, and he's done a good job. The people have come to know him and like him in the role as governor, and that's a big difference from last year's election when he was newly installed as an acting governor."

Tomblin and Maloney campaigned against each other in the 2011 special gubernatorial election. The two have essentially been campaigning against each other since May 2011, when both men won their party's respective special gubernatorial primaries. Maloney loaned his campaign more than $1 million over the course of the two campaigns. Carenbauer said he's not sure Maloney has the resources to try for the governorship a third time.

"I don't foresee a third try by Mr. Maloney," Carenbauer said. "That would be very unusual for someone to go out on a limb and try a third time. I'm not expecting that at all in 2016. It's completely unknown and uncertain who will run on either side."

Neil Berch, a political science professor at West Virginia University, said one thing that would have been different under a Maloney governorship would be his budget policies.

"I assume his budget policies would be somewhat more conservative," Berch said. "Whereas Tomblin is going to probably have to try to thread the needle between natural gas interests — the Marcellus Shale interests — and environmental interests, I think Maloney wouldn't try to thread that needle. Those would be the main differences."

Tomblin touted budgetary successes over the course of the two campaigns. West Virginia survived the economic recession with a surplus and without laying off state employees.

"We have made significant progress in our state," Tomblin said in his victory speech. "We're doing what is right for our state."

Tomblin has been proactive in preparing the state's budget for expected rising health care costs. He asked all state agencies in September to cut 7.5 percent from their budgets. Berch said he thinks Tomblin will face some budgetary challenges, but he expects to see more of the same from the long-time politician.

"I would think you'll see the same relatively conservative Democrat," he said of Tomblin. "I think he's going to face some tougher budget issues in the coming years, depending upon, in particular, energy issues and that may be more of a challenge for him than the first two years, the acting year and the regular year. But I think having the likelihood of a tougher budget climate, unless the economy picks up, makes for him a more challenging position."