BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — The Mountain Party of West Virginia is hoping a combination of down-ballot candidates for the West Virginia House of Delegates, a well-known Gubernatorial candidate, and three U.S. House of Representative challengers from the Democratic Party who sought the party’s endorsement will lead to new found recognition in 2016.
“It is not that common,” Party Chair Elise Keaton, who is not running for another term, said during Saturday’s convention in Bridgeport. “We are doing a great deal of party building and grassroots engagement in all of our districts. What we’re seeing now is a reflection of that. People are interested in running. After the last legislative session, many folks feel as though the two established parties–the main parties of Democrats and Republicans–weren’t really representing the will of the people in this state.”
At the very top of the ticket is former Democratic candidate for Governor Charlotte Pritt. Pritt, a former WV House Delegate, ran a write-in campaign in 1992 that earned just shy of 50,000 votes. In 1996, she was at the top of the ticket for the Democrats, but lost to Republican Cecil Underwood. Pritt earned nearly 46 percent of the vote in that race.
The Mountain Party, which is the West Virginia affiliate of the national Green Party, is also running four candidates in total for the House of Delegates.
“I often hear too, ‘My vote is a vote for the lesser evil,'” Keaton said. “We tell people, ‘Stop voting for evil, and start supporting candidates that reflect your values.’ Take into consideration the Mountain Party platform.”
The new platform includes the Mountain Party’s continued commitment to Social Justice issues, drug reform, and environmental stewardship.
“We are an affiliate of the Green Party of the United States so we have a lot of environmentally interested people,” she said. “Folks who work on environmental issues are part of our party.”
At first glance, Keaton said it would be easy to ignore the Mountain Party and it’s fewer than 1700 registered party members. But during Gubernatorial elections, the Mountain Party candidate routinely draws far higher vote totals. Their lowest total came during the 2011 special election, which had limited turnout. Then former mayor and now current mayor Bob Henry Baber took in just over 6,000 votes.
In 2008, support peaked with candidate Jesse Johnson earning more than 30,000 votes as then-Governor Joe Manchin cruised to a landslide win over challenger Russ Weeks.
“We have a broad spectrum of everyone from former Republicans, former Tea Party members, former Democrats and independents who join our party because they have a voice in our election process,” she said.
Support has waned in some years. Jesse Johnson ran for Governor under the Mountain Party banner again in 2012, but finished with fewer than 17,000 votes.
Keaton said to get back to higher support levels, they’ll need to convince voters to take a long look at the race and decide which candidate really has their best interest at heart.
“I would just say that we’ve seen what our established parties do in West Virginia, and we’re not in too good of a position given their leadership so far,” Keaton said. “I would encourage other people to take a look at our Mountain Party candidates and decide if, perhaps, they may be a better direction for West Virginia.”
Former state historian and Mountain Party stalwart Greg Carroll, a Putnam County native, said the party faces a tall task when it comes to fundraising.
“A lot of the Republican and Democratic Party function is based on garnering funds from large corporations,” he said. “That’s how they survive. They always advertise as if they have small donations. No. It’s big donations from huge corporations.”
But Carroll is confident that the party die hards can contribute more by getting a little creative, which includes a Mountain Party Associates program.
“The situation is one where our party that’s very working class, pro-labor union, pro-poor folks, we’ve still got to put in as much money as we can,” he said. “We’ve done a fair job, but not a great job.”
That program will allow for voters who don’t want to leave their long-time parties–or don’t want to join a party at all–to still contribute and stay involved with the Mountain Party.
Carroll said he hoped to be able to convince others to see the state the way he had seen it–from a historian’s point of view.
“Being a state historian, I’ve seen how our state has been controlled by corporations ever since the Civil War,” he said. “From that point on I was thinking, ‘Boy we need to break away from our colonial situation that we are in.'”
All three Republican incumbents in the House of Representatives–David McKinley in the first, Alex Mooney in the second, and Evan Jenkins in the third–will face Democratic challengers in November. All three of those challengers were in Bridgeport Saturday–receiving a formal endorsement from the Mountain Party.
Former West Virginia House Delegate Mike Manypenny-will run against Rep. David McKinley in the first district.
Former House delegate Mark Hunt will face Rep. Alex Mooney in the second district.
Former U.S. Secret Service Agent Matt Detch, a Lewisburg native who served on teams protecting President Bush and President Obama, will face Evan Jenkins in the third.
“I think this is a party made up of broad and diverse group of people,” Keaton said. “And should we be approached by a Republican who was willing to support our platform we would support that candidate.”
Keaton said Saturday that they had only been approached by Democrats up to that point.
The four Mountain Party candidates for House of Delegates races are Elizabeth Rhule (District 36), Chris Reed (District 39), Jeffrey “Scott” Straight (District 40), and Barbara Daniels (District 44).