One reason Senator Robert Byrd always won re-election is that no one ever believed his opponent had a chance of beating him.
Popular politicians benefit from a sense of inevitability; it weakens challengers by discouraging their supporters.
Democrat Natalie Tennant faces that obstacle in her campaign to upset Republican Shelley Moore Capito in this year’s U.S. Senate race.
Capito is not Sen. Byrd, but she does enjoy a perception among many that she’s going to win.
Tennant is a credible candidate, a solid retail politician and a voracious campaigner, but her efforts are somewhat undermined by a public perception that Capito is going to win.
That scenario was bolstered even more by the newest poll numbers.
The West Virginia Poll, conducted for the Charleston Daily Mail by Repass Research, found that if the election were held today, 54 percent would support Capito, 37 percent Tennant and 9 percent undecided or other.
(The poll surveyed 401 likely voters between August 15-23. It has a margin of error of 4.9 percent.)
The West Virginia Poll numbers are similar to the findings of a Rasmussen Poll taken at about the same time.
It had 50 percent supporting Capito and 33 percent for Tennant — still a 17 point lead.
Both polls show Capito expanding her lead.
The double-digit deficit is bad enough for Tennant, but the poll shows other challenges for the current secretary of state.
Her approve/disapprove numbers are not as strong as Capito’s.
The poll shows 37 percent of voters approve of Tennant, while 50 percent approve of Capito.
And 29 percent of voters disapprove of Tennant, while 25 percent disapprove of Capito.
But the real albatross for Tennant is President Obama.
The West Virginia Poll shows his approval rating in the state is at just 25 percent while 63 percent disapprove.
Tennant and Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio are constantly trying to remind voters that Obama is not on the ballot.
That’s technically accurate, but it doesn’t mean the President isn’t a major factor in the midterm election.
Real Clear Politics Senior Elections Analyst Sean Trende says, “Presidential job approval is still the most important variable for how his party fares in midterm elections.”
Many voters use the midterm elections to express how they feel about the direction of the country.
Of course the president’s overall numbers could improve, especially if the economy gets better, but it’s hard to imagine much change in West Virginia.
The coal industry is struggling, especially in the heavily democratic southern half of the state, and Obama is taking considerable blame for that.
The liberal Huffington Post political blog also gives a decided edge to Capito.
The HuffPost Model Estimate of nine polls by seven pollsters concludes the probability that Capito will beat Tennant is 92.3 percent.
We only have two months before the election, but as the most recent polls show, time is not Tennant’s biggest problem.
Kercheval is host of Talkline, broadcast statewide by the Metronews Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon weekdays. Listen locally on WCHS 580 AM.