Tomorrow, West Virginia voters go to the polls to choose their next governor in a special election necessitated by Joe Manchin’s election to the Senate last year.  Manchin won that seat as a popular Democrat in a conservative, which the Senate president and interim governor, Earl Ray Tomblin, hoped would suffice to keep the seat away from Republicans.  He entered the race with a 33-point lead in polling over his GOP challenger Billy Maloney, but Democratic pollster PPP now says it’s a dead heat:

The race for Governor of West Virginia is looking more and more like a toss up, with Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin now leading Republican Bill Maloney only 47-46.  Tomblin’s lead was 46-40 on a poll conducted at the beginning of September and he had led by as large a margin as 33 points earlier in the year.

So what happened?  Maloney started scoring some points off of Tomblin, but PPP’s Tom Jensen thinks the problem may not be Tomblin at all:

Attempts to saddle Tomblin with the burden of Barack Obama might be having an impact as well- the President’s approval in the state is just 28%, with 63% of voters disapproving of him.

When we polled West Virginia a month ago Maloney led by 65 points with Republicans and 5 points with independents.  He currently leads by 65 points with Republicans and 4 points with independents.  So there’s basically been no change with those voting groups.  The shift that’s occurred has been with Democrats.  Maloney’s share of their vote has increased from 17% to 24%, while Tomblin has remained in place at 69%.  Maloney has particularly made in roads with conservative Democrats- they now support Tomblin by only a 49-43 margin.

The news is probably worse for Democrats than PPP lets on.  Their polling sample gave Democrats a 20-point advantage, 55/35/9.  In 2010, with the popular Manchin at the top of the ticket, CNN’s exit polling showed a much narrower edge for Democrats, 41/35/24.  Since Jensen himself notes that Manchin would beat Maloney by thirty points, it’s hard to see why Democrats would add 14 points to their edge from 2010 while Republicans lose two points and two-thirds of independents disappear.

If we reweighted the response to reflect the 2010 exit polling, I’d bet that Maloney would be leading this race outside of the margin of error.  We’ll certainly know after tomorrow.

Update: Tomblin was the Senate president; WV doesn’t have a lieutenant governor.  Thanks to Bobby R for the reminder.