Raese: GOP can pick-up West Virginia Senate seat

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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If Republicans win enough seats in November to regain control of the Senate, they’ll have to take traditionally blue states like West Virginia with them.

The GOP nominee there, John Raese, says it’s a fight he can win.

“There’s win-ability here,” Raese said during a phone interview with The Daily Caller in his deep West Virginia drawl. “I travel around the state a lot, and I can feel it.”

The special election to fill the remainder of long-time Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd’s Senate seat will pit Raese against popular Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin. Raese says the race has other national implications: because it’s a special election, the winner will be sworn in immediately and will be able to vote in a lame duck session at the end of the year.

“When you have that opportunity, there’s probably going to be a lot of lame-duck liberal senators in there that no longer will be with us,” he said, suggesting that defeated Democratic senators will use the remaining months of their term to vote for liberal legislation.

So who is John Raese?

He’s a wealthy CEO of a limestone and steel company, who has the ability to self-finance his run. But — even when pressed— Raese refuses to say how much of his personal fortune he’s willing to spend. Though opponents may use his money against him, he says his willingness to spend his own money on the election is a good sign to supporters.

“I think when a lot of people look at your race, they want to make sure you’re investing in it,” he said. “If you’re not investing it in, why would they?”

But Raese says he is wise with his money. In his handful of unsuccessful runs for office, he says he’s never spent more than his opponent, and says he thinks Manchin will outspend him this year too.

His campaign staff is not very large: it includes an operative who helped elect former Republican Oklahoma Rep. JC Watts to the House years ago and several field coordinators across the state, but much of his campaign structure consists of volunteer county coordinators. “That’s volunteer—and it doesn’t get much better than that,” he said.

When it comes to the issues, Raese says he “was a Tea Party guy before the Tea Party. I was a conservative in West Virginia.”

He’s for repealing President Obama’s health care law, is against cap and trade legislation and says he’s for a balanced budget amendment. He’s okay with eliminating some federal departments and agencies too.

During a conversation with TheDC, the businessman threw out lots of numbers as he discussed his policies.

“It costs this country 52 billion dollars a year to operate the Department of Education,” he said. “The federal government has no business being in our school systems. Just like Ronald Reagan said — what back in 1982? — he’d like to dismantle, and I’d certainly like to dismantle in 2011 the Department of Education.”

And Raese says won’t stop there. “If you look at the Department of Energy, that’s 30 billion dollars. And once again, what do they do? Do they drill a well or do they open up a mine? It’s hard to [put a] finger on it, but it’s another group of redundancies that we don’t need.”

He says in 2008, 285 bills were passed in Congress containing 3,800 regulations. “If you add every regulation up that concerns business — and I’m not talking about safety, I’m talking about regulatory roadblocks to competitiveness — you’re looking at about $1.2 trillion dollars a year,” Raese said.

NEXT: Raese strategy to tie Manchin to President Obama
His campaign strategy appears to be linking Manchin with President Obama, who has high disapproval numbers in West Virginia, in an attempt to portray the governor as not the independent he’s often viewed as. “He’s does one thing in West Virginia, but when you look at his national issues, it’s very much in favor of Barack Obama,” Raese said.

To Raese, Obama’s policies are “socialistic.”

“It’s the most loony-tune thing we’ve heard,” Raese said of the recently passed health care bill. “To me, it’s just unadulterated socialism.”

As for national GOPers he admires, he singled out Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, who he said is on the “cutting edge.” Asked about former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Raese said he likes her, explaining “anytime you have an all-star in your party like Sarah Palin, how can you go wrong?”

Raese says his message resonates with voters in the age of the Tea Parties. “A lot of the things I’ve stood for over the years maybe didn’t resonate,” he said, referencing his past unsuccessful attempts at running for office. “But I can say this. They certainly resonate today, and I think a lot of it is because the Tea Party brought that to the forefront.”

In a recent television ad, Manchin’s campaign attempts to counter Raese’s message by accusing him of “tearing people down” like others in Washington.

But recent polling shows the race tightening. A Rasmussen poll this month has Raese trailing Manchin by just 5 points.

Jennifer Duffy, an editor at the Cook Political Report, said even though polls show a closer race, Raese has his work cut out for him. “It’s a longshot,” Duffy said. “Is [it] a huge long shot? Not in a cycle like this.”