But if Tomblin loses in 2011, it will be a troubling sign for Manchin, as voters will be rejecting a candidate politically similar to the senator.
Tomblin's opponent is Republican businessman Bill Maloney
, a political newcomer who ran in the GOP primary as a conservative outsider with strong business credentials. Self-funding enabled him to stay up on television statewide for extended periods in an effort to build his name identification. Already, observers are comparing the matchup
to the 2010 Senate race, in which Manchin faced John Raese
, also a Republican businessman.
Maloney is likely to continue playing up his outsider status, casting Tomblin as a career politician, as Raese tried to do against Manchin. But Raese had run for statewide office before, while Maloney has not. And Republicans argue that Manchin was more well-known when he ran than Tomblin is now. Casting Maloney's ideas as out of touch with the mainstream was a tactic Democrats used against Raese and will likely be used against Maloney in 2010.
The 2012 electoral climate may be very different from 2011. We also don't yet know how strong a candidate Manchin will face in 2012 and what the rest of his term as senator will look like. But Democrats have nominated a Manchin-style candidate to compete in a statewide race this year, and Tomblin's performance now could be a good barometer for 2012.