The Republican Race
Though there are eight candidates in the field, realistically only two have a chance at victory on Saturday: Ireland and Maloney. Ireland, having previously been elected to statewide office, began the race with better name recognition than Maloney, who had never previously run for office.
Maloney has outraised Ireland and loaned his campaign extra money to introduce himself to voters and craft an image as a conservative businessman who has experience creating jobs and is not a politician. Maloney has donated to Democratic candidates in the past, a recent report revealed, putting his campaign on defense.
Ireland has essentially been trying to run out the clock on the race, airing just one television ad and only recently engaging with Maloney. The two have, over the last week or so, begun lobbing attacks back and forth.
What To Watch For
Based on early voting, fairly low overall turnout is projected. At the end of early voting, 43,650 votes had been cast statewide, representing a 3.6 percent turnout rate. According to the West Virginia Secretary of State's office, Democrats had cast 27,453 votes for a 4.2 percent turnout, while Republicans had cast 12,933 for a 3.7 percent turnout. Independents, who can vote in either primary, cast 3,169. In the 2008 primary and the 2010 special primary early voting accounted for about 14 percent of the total voting number.
On the Republican side, Ireland should perform strongly in Kanawha County, where she's from. Maloney, similarly, should perform well in his Morgantown, where he's based. Ireland and Maloney's respective performances in Wood County are key to watch: it's a strongly Republican county with no local candidate.
Tomblin comes from the southern part of the state, and is expected to do well there. Thompson and Perdue also hail from the south and will be competing for votes in the region. The conventional wisdom is that low turnout will help Thompson: his labor supporters will work to turn out voters in most of the state.
Tennant has to perform strongly in Clarksburg and Charleston, where she was once a news anchor, and where she has concentrated her ad buys.
Kessler is the only Democrat with an address north of Charleston, so watch for him to rack up votes in the northern panhandle -- part of which is in his state Senate district.
There's also been very limited polling of the general election, but if he advances, Tomblin would begin the race as the clear favorite for the October 4 general election over either Maloney or Ireland.
Look for Tomblin to try to cobble together a winning coalition similar to Sen. Joe Manchin's: both men are conservative Democrats who are pro-life, pro-gun, and have strong ties to coal.
Whoever wins the seat, he or she will have to run again in 2012 to earn a full four-year term. The task could prove more difficult for Democrats with President Obama -- extremely unpopular in West Virginia -- at the top of the ticket. Manchin will also be running for the Senate again in 2012, and the overall effect will likely be that national issues play a bigger role than this year.