Mark Maynard owns a used car lot, runs a towing business and spends his spare time on a professional drag racing pit crew. And despite not raising a dime for his Republican campaign and agreeing with his Democratic opponent on almost all the issues, he defeated West Virginia's longest-sitting state senator.
That was the kind of election it was for West Virginia Democrats. As voters took out their disgust with President Barack Obama, Maynard defeated Sen. Truman Chafin, a lawmaker Republicans previously had bothered to challenge only once in three decades.
Continue Reading Below
The same momentum helped Republicans win a U.S. Senate seat held for decades by a Democrat, sweep three congressional seats and take majorities in the Legislature for the first time in eight decades.
"Everybody's low approval rating of the president and the way he was running the country, I got some votes through that," said Maynard, 42.
Chafin, a Mingo County lawyer and once longtime Senate Majority Leader, had faced only a handful of scares since first winning his seat in 1982. All of them came from other factions of Democrats, though.
Before this election, Republicans only once fielded a candidate against Chafin in southern West Virginia, a 1990 landslide victory for the senator.
Democrats maintain huge registration edges statewide, and in each of Senate District 6's four counties. McDowell and Mingo went for Chafin, but Mercer and Wayne, Maynard's home county, voted for the Republican. He eked out a win by less than 2 percentage points.
After the defeat, Chafin had only positive words. He commended his opponent for running a clean campaign.
"Life is an attitude, and it is important to have a good one," Chafin said in a statement after the loss. "As I hear in church each Sunday morning - wherever you are, the good Lord has put you there. He has something he wants to do through you right where you are."
Not a single campaign check came Maynard's way, nor did he report spending anything. Potential donors told Maynard he didn't have the right political background, he said.
Instead, he knocked on doors and networked.
Maynard paid out of pocket for some election supplies and someone donated $350 worth of yard signs. He printed pamphlets listing his stances and hobbies: working on a fly-in pit crew for funny-car drag races; playing guitar and singing country and gospel music; and trail riding in his 1982 Chevy 4x4.
Maynard, chairman of the Wayne County GOP, didn't show much promise in a 2008 Senate bid. He lost almost 2-to-1 against former Democratic Sen. John Pat Fanning.
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary for Chafin, who was unopposed in his primary. He spent about $14,600 through mid-October, most of it for radio ads before late May.
But in West Virginia's lowest-turnout general election in at least 64 years, voters largely showed up at the polls angry at the president.
Statewide, an exit poll showed three out of four voters said they disapproved of Obama's performance. In the historically Democratic state, about six out of 10 said they viewed the Democratic Party unfavorably. It was closer to half-and-half for Republican favorability, the poll of 1,391 voters conducted for The Associated Press and television networks showed.
Coal mining jobs are disappearing in the Senate district. Obama's plans to cut carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants to curb global warming are viewed there as an affront to the coal industry, which already faces market, geological and regulatory hindrances.
When Maynard and Chafin sat down with The Bluefield Daily Telegraph editorial board, there wasn't much that distinguished their stances, Maynard said.
Both candidates stressed support for the coal industry and opposition to Obama's energy push; both opposed gay marriage; and both urged more action on the King Coal Highway to connect the region to the rest of the state better.
"I think it's not necessarily dissatisfaction with him," Maynard said of Chafin. "It's just dissatisfaction with the party."