CHARLESTON, W.Va., May 12 (UPI) -- West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, filling the office on a temporary basis, has the lead among Democrats heading into Saturday's primary election.
A series of events, beginning with the death of long-time U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, led to Tomblin's occupying the governor's office following the election of its former occupant, Joe Manchin, to complete Byrd's unexpired term.
A Public Policy Polling survey indicates Tomblin, who served 36 years in the state Legislature, including 18 years leading the Senate, increased his lead over his nearest rival from a scant 1 percentage point to 16 percentage points, Stateline.org reported Thursday.
"He would really have to somehow collapse to not end up winning it," said PPP's director, Tom Jensen.
The latest Public Policy Polling survey in April indicated 32 percent of likely Democratic voters said they would support Tomblin, while the remaining portion was nearly evenly divided among the three other major Democratic candidates.
Eight candidates are vying for the Republican nomination, but attention has fallen on two -- former Secretary of State Betty Ireland and businessman Bill Maloney, known for his role in helping rescue of the trapped Chilean miners last year. An April Public Policy Polling survey indicated more than as quarter of Republican voters were undecided.
The general election is in October. The winner will take on gubernatorial duties for 14 months, until the regular general election is held in November 2012.