If any West Virginia Republicans were praying for political help in 2016 at church this morning, they got an answer when they got home. The good news came not from God, but from Democratic Senator Joe Manchin who announced he will not run for governor next year. This is a body blow to a state Democratic Party that has slowly lost its iron-hand control of a state -- a control that resulted in West Virginia falling to 49th place in income over the 80+ years that Democrats were in charge.
Blame George Walker Bush. He carried the state and its five Electoral College votes in 2000 -- votes that won him the presidency because without West Virginia, Florida would not have mattered.
Republicans have slowly rebuilt their party. Also in 2000, Shelley Moore Capito, a friend of the Bush family, became the first Republican elected to Congress in 18 years.
In 2010, David McKinley became the state's second Republican congressman.
In 2012, Patrick Morrisey became the first Republican state attorney general elected in 84 years.
In 2014, Alex Mooney succeeded Capito, keeping that congressional seat Republican, while Capito became the first Republican U.S. senator elected in 58 years. Evan Jenkins beat 38-year incumbent Nick Joe Rahall, completing the Republican sweep of West Virginia's three congressional seats. Joe Manchin is the state's last Democrat in Washington.
But wait, there is more. Also in 2014, Republicans took the state House of Delegates for the first time in 84 years, and the state Senate for the first time in 82 years.
The Democratic Party has two black eyes, a bleeding nose, and a broken jaw.
With Democratic Governor Earl Ray Tomblin ineligible for a third term, Democrats are scrambling for a viable candidate.
Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant committed political suicide by running a mean girl campaign that backfired in her Senate race against Capito, as Tennant had the lowest percentage of the vote ever for a Democratic candidate. She is the Democratic John Raese.
Democratic state Auditor Glen Gainer was demolished by McKinley in their congressional race.
That leaves state Treasurer John Perdue and Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick, both of whom are little more than insider political hacks, just like Gainer. Former Senate President Jeff Kessler and former House Speaker Tim Miley are just that: former.
The only Democrat who can win is state Supreme Court Justice Robin Jean Davis, whose millionaire trial lawyer husband can bankroll her. She's won a few statewide races and is unstained by scandal because the press in doesn't think a jet deal with a litigant before the court is a big deal.
One caution: The state's politics have changed not because Republicans are so much better, but because Democrats are staying home. Republican Dan Greear received more votes for attorney general in 2008 than Republican Morrisey received in 2012. The difference is Democrat Darrell McGraw's vote total in 2012 dropped even more from 2008's level.
Democrats stayed home because of Al Gore in 2000, John Kerry in 2004, Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and Natalie Tennant in 2014. In between times, they did OK with Manchin winning the Senate seat in 2010, the Tea Party Year.
But prospects in 2016 are dim for Democrats. National Democrats will nominate Hillary Clinton or someone even more loony lefty, which will hurt the party down ticket. A mediocre gubernatorial candidate will do further damage. Republicans are poised to increase their majorities in the Legislature and take a few other state offices in addition to the governorship. We shall see.
Manchin figures he can stay in Washington and save time and money as he seeks re-election in 2018. He didn't get to the Senate by making dumb moves.