So just who is John Raese, the Republican businessman who could potentially be West Virginia’s next Senator, if he wins the special election for the seat formerly held for over 50 years by the late Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd? He’s a man who has been longtime political fixture in the state, but never actually winning anything — except perhaps until now.
Raese comes from a family with a large presence in West Virginia business. He is president and CEO of Greer Industries, a major mining company, and also president of the West Virginia Radio Corporation, which owns more than 25 radio stations. He has run for office three times before, each time unsuccessfully.
He first ran for Senate way back in 1984, losing by a narrow 52%-48% against Democrat Jay Rockefeller in an open-seat race, which was held in the middle of the 1984 Reagan landslide. He later ran for governor in 1988, challenging the scandal-plagued Republican incumbent Arch Moore in the GOP primary, losing by 53%-47%. He ran for Senate again in 2006, challenging Byrd — and spent $2.2 million of his own money — ultimately losing by a very wide margin of 64%-36%.
With a Stassenesque electoral record like that, one would think of Raese as a sacrificial lamb on his way to yet another defeat. But maybe not this year — as of right now, he’s ahead, with a current lead of 49.4%-43.4% in the TPM Poll Average against Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin. And this is despite the fact that Manchin remains an overwhelmingly popular figure as governor.
“I’ve been a conservative in West Virginia before that was popular,” Raese told CNN. “I’ve seen a change in West Virginia. Not a change in John Raese, but a change in West Virginia and a change in America.
The reason is very simple — President Obama is massively unpopular here. He won only 43% of the vote here in 2008, and the TPM Poll Average shows him with only a 30.0% approval rating in the state, with 66.4% disapproval. As such, Republicans saw an opportunity when this seat opened up with Byrd’s passing in June, and Raese has been hitting it hard.
At the same time, though, Raese is left open to criticism because of some of his own apparent gaffes, and those of his party. For example:
• He has attracted some attention for the fact his family does not live in West Virginia, but are instead located in a lavish house in Florida.
• His wife is not registered to vote in West Virginia, but instead in Florida. Raese himself is a registered West Virginia voter.
• He does not hide his privileged background, which could seem out of touch in this populist environment. Quite far from it, he declared: “I made my money the old-fashioned way, I inherited it. I think that’s a great thing to do. I hope more people in this country have that opportunity as soon as we abolish inheritance tax in this country, which is a key part of my program.”
• He wants to abolish the minimum wage: “Minimum wage is something Franklin Delano Roosevelt put in during the depression. I didn’t work during the depression and it certainly hasn’t worked now.”
• And of course, in a recent fumble by Raese’s allies in the GOP, a recent national Republican ad was produced using a casting call for actors who would have a “hicky” look.
Raese’s latest ad seems to acknowledge some of these recent missteps — and soldiers on by readily focusing the election right back to his number-one message of opposing Obama:
“I’m not perfect — but you don’t have to be to know Obama’s policies have hurt us. Obamacare means big government. Cap-and-trade hurts coal. Obama’s tax increases hurt families. And Joe Manchin rubber-stamps all of these. I’m John Raese, and I approve this message — because I won’t be a rubber stamp to Barack Obama.”
And indeed, it’s quite possible that this pitch could be enough.