CHARLESTON W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The hours are counting down until the polls open in West Virginia for the special primary election for voters to chose their top picks for governor.
For the Democrats, polls show acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin holding strong, but for Republicans, a last-minute battle has two candidates now neck and neck.
It's a dead heat in an independent poll released late Thursday showing Bill Maloney with a slight lead over former Secretary of State Betty Ireland.
In the poll by Public Policy Polling, Maloney is holding 32 percent support to Ireland's 31 percent.
That's a major shift, as polls had Maloney far behind Ireland until recently.
"We've really been stepping up and climbing in the polls the last month," Bill Maloney said. "It's all about getting our name out and our message and, once people get to know what we're all about, it'll really resonate with everyone. It's energizing."
Ireland held the lead early on as the front-runner, with the poll citing name recognition for her success over Maloney.
"There's a lot of folks out there who assumed Ireland had this nomination wrapped up," University of Charleston professor of public policy Tera McCown said. "In fact, that doesn't appear to be the case."
"We mapped out a strategy, and that was to secure our nomination," Ireland said. "Every step of the campaign has been strategic. Nothing has been reactionary."
Ireland added, "We're not going to lose our cool, and we diligently work to that plan."
That plan has been working to Ireland's advantage among moderate and centric voters. However, the poll shows Maloney connecting more with conservatives.
"I don't need this job; I really don't," Maloney said. "I'm not obligated to anyone. I just want to help our state, and I think that resonates with people."
"I've said all along we don't pay any attention to polls good or bad," Ireland said. "The only poll that counts is the one at 7:30 Saturday night."
Results could swing either way as 14 percent of Republicans remain undecided, leaving the winner in the hands of voters.
"When you get a result like this the night before the election, and they're suddenly realizing there's another candidate, it totally is a game changer," McCown said. "It doesn't take a large increase in voters to switch this thing around."
More than 43,000 people, roughly 3 percent of West Virginia's registered voters, cast their votes early.
Polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
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