Morgantown industrialist John Raese said Thursday he will run for U.S. Senate because he has “unfinished business” with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
The two men faced off in a bitter 2010 special election to fill the seat left vacant when Robert Byrd died. Manchin won by 10 percent.
“I call it unfinished business,” Raese said.
Democrats and Republicans quickly returned to the same talking points West Virginians heard the last time around.
Raese said President Barack Obama’s presidency was a “disaster.”
“We have a senator that seems to support that disaster, he has voted with Obama over 85 percent of the time,” Raese said. “I think it’s a bad experiment for West Virginia. Certainly the last time he was through I called him a ‘rubber stamp’ and he didn’t let me down.”
Raese was referring to the number of votes Manchin has taken with other Democrats in the Senate.
The state Democrats noted it was Raese’s fourth try at U.S. Senate and hit on the home Raese keeps in Florida.
“Florida resident John Raese has now made it official – he’s on his fourth attempt to lose a U.S. Senate seat,” state Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio said.
Puccio was referring to the home Raese owns in Florida where his wife and two daughters live part of the year.
Rease said he decided to enter the race when the West Virginia University band played “Take Me Home, Country Roads” at the Jan. 4 Orange Bowl.
Some West Virginia voters may feel some deja vu all over again this year. Republican Bill Maloney is expected to again challenge Democrat Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a repeat of the 2011 special gubernatorial election.
Republicans attacked Manchin and Tomblin for supporting President Barack Obama, who is deeply unpopular in West Virginia, according to publicly available polling. Democrats attacked Maloney and Raese for being out-of-touch businessmen. It’s not clear how having both pairs of men on the ticket could affect their collective political fortunes, but both sides can be expected to create attacks that lump together their opposition.
In 2010, some publicly available polling suggested Raese was on course upsetting Manchin — that is until Manchin beat Raese decisively, taking 53 percent of the vote.
Raese and Manchin both still need to win their party’s primaries this May. No Democrat has stepped forward to challenge Manchin. Raese is the only Republican to file so far.
Manchin, a conservative Democrat in a Democratic state, has captured a middle road that his foes have found hard to get around. Candidates to his left would have trouble finding conservative Democrats to vote for them; candidates to his right may scare off the state’s Democratic voters.
Raese has never shied away from a fight. He’s run for — and lost — three Senate races and a governor’s race.
Raese is the head of Greer Industries, a network of businesses that include the largest limestone producer in West Virginia, a multi-state steel producer, West Virginia Radio Corp. and The Dominion Post newspaper. Rease and his brothers inherited a lot of the business from their grandparents.
A millionaire businessman, he’s never feared to speak his mind, something Democrats deftly used to help sink him in 2010. He joked he earned his money the old-fashioned way — by inheriting it.
Still, he gave Manchin an unexpectedly tough race in 2010. Rease, for instance, took advantage of Manchin’s sometimes complex positions on issues.
Raese’s strategy was simple: raise questions about Manchin’s conservative bona fides, tie him to the unpopular Obama administration and hope for low Democratic and high Republican turnout.
But two things happened that turned the race Manchin’s s way.
First, a brouhaha erupted after the revelation that a casting call for an anti-Manchin ad paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee called for actors who looked “hicky” to portray West Virginians. Raese didn’t have anything to do with the ad, but the stir caused by it played into the Democrats’ hands.
Then Manchin — who had taken his time in buying advertising for his campaign — fought back. Raese was something of a blank canvas to many West Virginia voters and Democrats filled it in by hitting Raese for his wealth.
Raese is rarely heard from except when he was running for public office. He’s said he’s off running his business, including a steel business in Ohio and a limestone business in Pendleton County, as well as his media interests.
“Somebody has to run these things, that’s primarily what I’m doing,” Raese said.
Democrats seized on those interests, attacking Raese’s businesses and Florida home.
“I don’t know how I’m out of state, first of all,” Raese said. “Our companies have been doing business in West Virginia since 1905, we were established in 1917, and coming up in a few years, we’re going to have over 100 years of business in West Virginia.”
In December 2010, Raese told the Daily Mail he was worn out and not sure he would again for public office. He’s obviously changed his mind.
If Raese is private between elections, Manchin is the opposite. He’s a classic retail politician. The other day, in his Charleston office, Manchin stopped to chat with the janitorial staff as his aides pleaded with him to get on the road.
“Maybe that’s good, bad or ugly, but I’m not the consummate politician like a Bill Clinton, sitting out there hammering it everyday,” Raese said.