With five days to go before the general election, Gov. Cecil Underwood believes that momentum is on his side.
"I'm sure it's going to be close," Underwood said during a visit to Clarksburg Wednesday evening.
Underwood referenced weekly tracking polls conducted by his campaign since September that showed him trailing Rep. Bob Wise, his Democratic opponent, by seven points at first. They now show the governor with a five-point lead, Underwood said.
"I think our momentum is building," he said.
One reason Underwood is confident is the state's economy.
"Four years ago, I said I would build on Gaston Caperton's economic success," Underwood said. "We've created 40,000 new jobs since then, that's 1,000 more than he did in eight years. So we have built on that foundation."
The governor also pointed to the unemployment rate reaching a 50-year low.
"The critics say we've lost so many jobs. If we have, unemployment wouldn't be so low."
And the future looks bright for the economy, the governor said. His administration has worked on changing the state's economic base from coal to other industries.
"In the southern coal fields, we've completed the Appalachian Corridor É and the Coalfield Expressway," Underwood said. "Those are major roads that aren't going to be built overnight. But we're getting to the point where people can move around better in that part of the state."
Such highways open areas for economic development, he said.
Underwood pointed to the high-technology industries that have been attracted to other parts of the state.
And he says he has plans to further boost international investment in the Mountain State.
"We have 77 international companies now investing in West Virginia," he said. "I would like to establish a group that will coordinate the international effort in the state."
That group would not be run by the state, he said, but by a private organization, like Salem International University, he said.
"We need a coordinating group to work with the companies that are already here to see if we're meeting their needs."
Salem's history of working on the international level might make them a candidate to take that role, Underwood said.
Although growing the economy is important to Underwood, one way he would not try to do so is by spreading gambling, he said. On Tuesday, voters in Greenbrier County will decide whether or not to allow gambling at The Greenbrier Resort.
"I signed the bill (that allows the county to vote on the issue), but I don't want gambling to expand wide-spread across the state," Underwood said.
He went on to say that the bill is tightly controlled. If the measure passes, only registered guests at the resort will be allowed to gamble.
Underwood also would not legalize gray machines that offer cash pay-outs to winners, he said, even though doing so could result in more tax dollars for state coffers.
Instead, expanding the economy should be based on attracting new industries here, Underwood said. Doing so will depend in part on the higher education system.
In the new economy, colleges and universities will have to adapt their curricula to meet the changing needs of the workforce, he said.
"Fairmont State College has done as good a job as any in adapting to the needs of the area," he said. "Colleges are adding new courses now to meet the demands of local businesses."
Underwood said he is hoping for a good voter turnout on Tuesday. The governor does not believe such a turnout will hurt him because his base of support is broader than that of his opponent, he said.
"I'm hoping that all the attention we've had for the presidential race will spark a high voter turnout," Underwood said.
Staff writer Paul Darst can be reached at 626-1404 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.