CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Public Policy Polling released a poll Wednesday showing acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) with a 46-40 lead over Morgantown businessman Bill Maloney (R) in the special election for West Virginia governor.
The poll shows Maloney has gained significantly on Tomblin since May when the firm last polled the state on the race. At that time, Tomblin led Maloney 45-30.
"It's clear that Bill Maloney's message of being a job creator and not a 36-year career politician is resonating with West Virginians. The trend and momentum is on Bill's side, and we'll continue working night and day to bring honest leadership to West Virginia on October 4," says Maloney campaign spokesperson Michelle Yi in an email.
Tomblin maintains a high approval rating of 50 percent, making him one of the most-liked governors in the country, according to PPP.
"Tomblin has got to keep the votes he has right now. Maloney cannot win unless he can pull some of the Democrats' votes away from Tomblin," says University of Charleston political science professor Tera McCown.
One of the big changes since May, PPP points out, is that Maloney's name recognition has shot up considerably. His name recognition is up to 72 percent, compared to 47 percent in May. At that time, the people who knew about him were split about whether they liked him. But now, 43 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of him, and 29 percent have an unfavorable view.
Maloney appears to have locked up the Republican base after a hard-fought primary race against former Secretary of State Betty Ireland. He has a 65-point lead among Republicans.
“The momentum in this race is definitely in Bill Maloney’s direction,” said Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling. “The problem for him now is that he’s pretty much maxed out on Republican support so he’ll need to win over a lot of Democrats in the closing stretch of the campaign to get over the 50 percent mark.”
Polling analysts point out the challenge for Maloney is that Tomblin is doing very well holding on to Democrats. Among Democrats, he leads Maloney 69-17.
"With a six-percent spread between these two candidates, there is room for play in this. And, it could be a very, very close race, And, if Maloney can pull enough of that support he could take this race," says McCown.
PPP surveyed 708 likely voters from September 1-4. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.7 percent.