The West Virginia Republican Party has recruited two more viable candidates for state Senate races in 2014, and is working on improving its line-up even more with just a month before the deadline to register to run.
In the 8th District (Kanawha, Putnam), the party has gotten a commitment from retired insurance agency owner Ed Gaunch to run for the seat now held by veteran Democrat Erik Wells. Republicans are giddy over Gaunch because of his business experience and conservative values.
Wells, husband of Secretary of State and U.S. Senate candidate Natalie Tennant, is well-known in the Kanawha valley from his days as a TV news anchor and he’s won election twice. It won’t be easy to upset him.
In the 10th District (Greenbrier, Fayette, Summers, Monroe) Republican businessman Duane Zobrist has decided to run. He runs an outdoor adventure company and is heavily involved in community organizations, including the Boy Scouts of America.
The 10th is a heavy Democratic district, which means incumbent Ronald Miller is still the favorite. However, Republicans believe Zobrist gives the party a chance of picking up a Senate seat.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party is hopeful it can secure a credible candidate to challenge Democratic incumbent Senator Bob Beach in the 13th District (Monongalia, Marion). One name that has surfaced is Sam Chico, Jr., but the Morgantown businessman has not yet made a decision. Retired Col. Robert Lazzell Jr. is also considering running.
In the 9th District (Raleigh, Wyoming, McDowell), GOP officials say they are talking with at least two potential candidates. The party’s goal there is to knock out two-term Democratic Senator Mike Green.
Democratic state Senate Majority Leader John Unger is up for re-election next year in the 16th District (Berkeley, Jefferson). Unger is favored to win his 5th term, but the GOP wants to take advantage of a growing Republican registration.
So far, no viable GOP candidate has entered the race, but current Republican House of Delegates member Mike Folk is reportedly considering it.
The 17th Senatorial District (Kanawha) is open because of the retirement of Democrat Brooks McCabe. Current House of Delegates member Democrat Doug Skaff is the early favorite to take that seat.
However, the GOP has not given up on that race either. The name of Charleston businesswoman Kim Knopf is being mentioned as a candidate for the 17th or perhaps even the 2nd District Congressional race, which already has several Republicans on the ticket.
Knopf is a successful entrepreneur. She started a bedding and mattress retail business 30 years ago, which has grown into Innovative Mattress Solutions, with 150 stores. She has enough personal wealth to mount a viable campaign for either race.
Democrats hold a 24-10 advantage in the state Senate, with 17 seats up in 2014. Of those 17, Democrats have 12 seats, Republicans have three and two are open. Currently, all three of the GOP seats appear secure, while probably half of the Democrats are in good shape, barring an unexpected challenge.