West Virginia has three congressional districts, created by two horizontal-ish lines trisecting the state from side to side. The first district, held by Republican David McKinley, isn’t really in play in 2014's elections. But the second and third districts very much are, and the way those two contests affect each other could get interesting.
Incumbent Rep. Nick Rahall, who was elected to Congress in 1976, faces what may be the toughest election of his career. The Democrat is a top target for Republicans, and CNN reported that he was actually looking to retire until House Democratic leadership promised his campaign more financial support.
He'll need it. Americans for Prosperity, an outside group backed by the Kochs, recently launched a West Virginia chapter and has already started spending on ads attacking him in his district. And TV spots targeting the incumbent that go up in the Charleston-Huntington media market will do double duty, said Republican pollster Mark Blankenship, as they'll show up on television sets in living rooms in both the second and third district.
Per a Republican operative, that means outside buyers targeting Rahall get more bang for their buck. TV spots emphasizing the negatives of the Affordable Care Act and the Obama administration won't just be a problem for Rahall -- they could hurt all area Democrats. A spot called “Your Plan Has Been Cancelled,” for instance, takes aim at Rahall. But he isn't even mentioned until 26 seconds into the 30-second clip. The ad isn't about Rahall; it's about Obamacare.
“When you’re seeing that over and over again in markets, all the personal stories, it’s not going to matter if the person who got their plan cancelled lives in the second or the third district,” the operative said. “Because of that unified message, it’s going to have an impact in both districts.”
Blankenship echoed that sentiment.
“While the primary campaign might be [presumptive Republican nominee Evan] Jenkins versus Rahall, there’s also going to be a whole litany of other voters that are going to be voting in other districts that are exposed to those advertisements,” he said.
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said the overlap could mean that former Democratic state chairman Nick Casey, the probable Democratic nominee in the second district, will take an extra hit.
“You better believe that it will matter,” he said of the ad campaign. “And it will hurt both of them.”
“ 'Obamacare' just sounds bad when you hear it,” said Kent Carper, a Democrat who is president of the Kanawha County Commission.
He added that being tied to the president and his policies is not an asset in the state, as his approval rating is unfortunate.
“I wouldn’t even call it an ‘approval’ rating,” Carper said. “He’s just disapproved for all kinds of reasons.”