CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Acting West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Republican businessman Bill Maloney won their respective party nominations Saturday in advance of an Oct. 4, court-ordered special election for governor.
Each prevailed among large fields of candidates by decisive margins amid low turnout.
Maloney, in his first bid for public office, defeated former Secretary of State Betty Ireland and six other Republicans by capturing 45 percent of the vote. Tomblin bested five fellow Democrats, including the state treasurer, secretary of state and House speaker, with 40.3 percent of the vote.
Tomblin and Maloney will face off in October along with Mountain Party candidate Bob Henry Baber, who was nominated by convention earlier this month.
The general election will decide who will complete the gubernatorial term of Democrat Joe Manchin. The Democrat was elected to the U.S. Senate last year, filling the vacancy created by the death of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd.
As the state Senate's president, Tomblin has been acting as governor under the West Virginia Constitution's succession provision since Manchin resigned Nov. 15. Tomblin's conclusion that the next election would not be until 2012, when the office is already on the ballot for a full four-year term, prompted legal challenges.
The state's Supreme Court responded by mandating that an elected governor take office within a year of Manchin's departure.
Saturday's election was the fourth in West Virginia in the past 12 months.
Tomblin, 59, is seen as a fiscal hawk who, along with other state leaders, has focused on easing debts and phasing-in tax cuts. Such fiscal policies are credited with helping keep West Virginia's finances stable and its budgets balanced during the Great Recession and ensuing recovery. Having represented coalfield voters in the Legislature since the mid-1970s, he also champions that industry.
"I think we put on a very positive campaign, a very aggressive campaign," Tomblin told The Associated Press Saturday. "I think the people of West Virginia liked our message of more jobs and lower taxes."
Maloney has campaigned as a conservative Republican and successful businessman. The 52-year-old Morgantown drilling consultant and energy company owner helped develop the plan that freed 33 Chilean miners trapped for 69 days after a mine collapse last year.
He said his passion for West Virginia prompted his first run at elected office.
"I saw the same passion among voters," Maloney told the AP Saturday. "Our message really resonated on the campaign trail, and that was wonderful to see."