Democrats have held onto the West Virginia governship, as acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin beat his GOP rival in a special election.

The Associated Press called the race for Tomblin, who was leading businessman Bill Maloney 50 to 47 late Tuesday. As president of the West Virginia state Senate, Tomblin succeeded Democrat Joe Manchin, who left the governorship after winning a U.S. Senate seat in November.

Like most special elections, this race garnered national attention and was viewed as a referendum on President Barack Obama. Despite the president's abysmal standing in the state, Democrats are still a powerful force on the local level.

The Maloney campaign repeatedly tried to tie Tomblin to Obama, who is unpopular in West Virginia. After months of lagging in polls, Maloney caught up and made the race into a dead heat by the end of September.

Maloney co-founded drilling companies and earned notoriety in 2010 for creating a plan that saved 33 Chilean miners trapped underground.