MORGANTOWN - Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin shook off GOP challenger Bill Maloney's attempts to link him to a president who's unpopular in the state, winning a full four-year term as West Virginia's chief executive Tuesday.
The state's five electoral votes, as expected, went to GOP hopeful Mitt Romney instead of President Barack Obama.
Tomblin, the state's longest-serving Senate president, successfully banked on the track record he'd established after three decades in state politics. He's been serving as governor since narrowly winning a special election for an unexpired term in 2010.
"The people of West Virginia appreciate the experience, the fiscal responsibility that we've shown, the good financial planning," Tomblin told The Associated Press. "We plan to continue to move forward along that same path and to continue to be responsible with the taxpayers' dollars."
In a brief concession speech in Morgantown, Maloney said he ran his campaign for his grandson and for other generations of children "who have left West Virginia to find new opportunities."
"And we're still hopeful we can bring all those children back to give them that opportunity right here in the Mountain State," he said, vowing to continue to fight but also calling for unity.
"This was a hard-fought campaign, but now it's time to come together and work together for a better state," Maloney said. "I want to ask all of you to work with Governor Tomblin to create a better West Virginia."
The candidates' first campaign showdown was brief, but this battle has been long and bitter, heavy on negative attacks by TV and direct mail. Tomblin argued the state has made good progress under his leadership, and in Arthurdale, 67-year-old teacher Mike George agreed.
The leadership that U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin showed as governor was supported by Tomblin before he became chief executive, George said after casting his ballot for both. Together, the two Democrats pushed initiatives through the Legislature such as an overhaul of the state workers' compensation program.
"That was going to bankrupt the state in itself. They saw fit to make some adjustments to make it a viable, working process," George said. "I'm proud of that fact - that I'm in a state that is fiscally sound and well-run. ... I'd hate to see it change drastically."
But Maloney, a longtime drilling engineer and successful business owner from Morgantown who had worked hard on his ground game, argued that the state needs drastic change.
His campaign, like that of most statewide Republican candidates in West Virginia, has relied heavily on linking his opponent to an unpopular commander in chief. Obama is widely disliked in West Virginia, portrayed by political foes as an enemy of the coal industry.
Barbara Bolyard, a 50-year-old registered Democrat from Newburg, backed Maloney because she didn't like what she saw from Tomblin during his brief tenure.
"Tomblin has been flying on Manchins's coat tails, and I do not like that," she said. "Everything was set in motion for him. I did not see anything that he did on his own. He just followed through with Manchin's stuff."
"If he'd have shown me something that he had the initiative to do on his own," she said, "he'd have had my vote."
West Virginia hasn't elected a Republican governor since Cecil Underwood, who defeated Democrat Charlotte Pritt in 1996. Underwood lost in 2000 to Democrat Bob Wise.
Several third-party and write-in candidates were on Tuesday's ballot, including the Mountain Party's Jesse Johnson.