CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Businessman Jim Justice, a Democratic candidate for governor in West Virginia, would defeat Senate President Bill Cole and Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler if elections were held today, according to the latest MetroNews West Virginia Poll from Repass Research and Strategic Consulting.

In a race between Justice and Kessler (D-Marshall, 02), both Democrats seeking the gubernatorial nomination, 40 percent of respondents said they would vote for Justice, 34 percent said they would back Kessler, and 26 percent were undecided.

Against Cole alone, Justice was backed by 46 percent of those questioned, while 37 percent indicated they would support Cole (R-Mercer, 06). The remaining 17 percent were unsure.

Removing Justice from the mix, Cole would beat Kessler 44 percent to 35 percent with 21 percent undecided, the poll showed.

The West Virginia Poll results were released on Friday’s MetroNews “Talkline” more than eight months ahead the May primary election.

Of those questioned, 44 percent said Republicans should retain control of the next Legislature, 38 percent said Democrats should return to power while 18 percent were not sure.

Those surveyed were also asked, “All in all, do you think things in West Virginia are generally headed in the right direction, or do you feel that things are off on the wrong track?”

In response, 28 percent said West Virginia was headed in the “right direction,” 56 percent said the state was on the “wrong track” and 16 percent were unsure.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s approval rating is up ahead of his final year in office, but at 47 percent it’s still below 50 percent for the third year in a row. In 2014, his approval rating was at 40 percent. His disapproval rate has climbed to 32 percent.

In a generic ballot, those polled were split on which party should next take over the governor’s office with 37 percent saying a Republican, 34 percent saying a Democrat and 29 percent opting not to make a choice.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) showed a slight increase in job-approval rating among West Virginians, climbing to 47 percent compared with 45 percent last year. However, 37 percent of state residents said they disapprove of the job he’s doing in Washington, D.C. this year, an increase over 2014.

West Virginians like U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) better, according to the West Virginia Poll. Her approval rating is 53 percent, while 26 percent of those questioned disapprove.

Later this month, poll results dealing with the issues of right-to-work and Common Core will be released.

The MetroNews West Virginia Poll from Repass Research and Strategic Consulting included a sampling of 402 likely West Virginia voters who were contacted and questioned between Aug. 19 and Aug. 30 via random digital dialing, landline phone, cell phone and opt-in Internet panel.

Created in Jan. 1980, the West Virginia Poll is a non-partisan survey of public opinion. For the first time, MetroNews is partnering with Repass for the poll ahead of the 2016 primary and general elections.