Despite heavy campaigning by Republicans for Chris Wakim in the First Congressional District of West Virginia, it seems likely that Democrat incumbent Rep. Alan Mollohan will be re-elected to a 13th term.
Last year, a Mollohan win was considered inevitable. Popular for bringing back millions in federal dollars to fund high-tech projects and job creation in this poor coal and steel district, Mollohan won by 68 percent of the vote in 2004. But Republicans were emboldened by a controversy surrounding allegations that Mollohan gave millions of dollars in earmarks to groups staffed by his friends and business partners while his personal wealth soared. Mollohan has denied the charges, but Republicans quickly rallied behind Wakim, a graduate of West Point and a state house delegate.
Republicans brought out the big guns. President Bush and House Speaker Dennis Hastert both stumped for Wakim in recent months. And a California-based political group, the Economic Freedom Fund, funded by GOP heavyweight and Texas developer Bob Perry, who funded many of the Swift Boat ads against John Kerry in 2004, has been calling voters, running television advertisements, and sending out mailings attacking Mollohan's ethics record.
But the Mollohan campaign argued that Wakim owned a bar that illegally paid winnings on video poker machines. Wakim's campaign said the practice was commonplace, but it seemed to erode the Republican challenger's momentum. "If the attention had stayed on Mollohan, it would have been closer, but the attention shifted to Wakim over the gambling machines," says Robert Rupp, professor of political science at West Virginia Wesleyan College. Mollohan also had a clear fundraising advantage. While Mollohan has raised about $1,173,000 so far, Wakim has raised about $585,000.The only poll that has been taken in the race was by Majority Watch, a project of bipartisan polling firm RT Strategies & Constituent Dynamics, which showed Mollohan leading Wakim by 10 percentage points. In mid-October, the Cook Political Report changed its ranking of the race from "leans Democrat" to a "likely Democratic" win.