The dynamics of the West Virginia Governor’s race have shifted with the decision by the Mountain Party to nominate Charlotte Pritt as their candidate.
Historically, the Mountain Party candidates have been unable to generate much traction. With only 1,700 registered members, the party has lacked a base from which to build support. However, Pritt’s entre could change that.
Charlotte Pritt was once the darling of the liberal wing of the state Democratic Party. Her unyielding support of labor and environmental issues made her a counterbalance to the pro-business moderates in the party.
Pritt finished second in a five-way race for the Democratic nomination for Governor in 1992, garnering 35 percent to Gaston Caperton’s 43 percent. Pritt then launched a write-in campaign, but finished with just seven percent of the vote in a race where Caperton defeated Republican Cleve Benedict.
Then four years later, Pritt had her most significant victory. Joe Manchin was the favorite to succeed Caperton, but Pritt stunned Manchin in the Primary, winning 40 percent of the vote to 33 percent for Manchin. Jim Lees finished third with 20 percent.
However, the race fractured the party. Manchin would not publicly support Pritt in the General Election race against Cecil Underwood, and some more conservative party members formed the “Democrats for Underwood” committee.
Underwood prevailed 52 percent to 46 percent. Four years later, Manchin got his political revenge, defeating Pritt handily in a five person race for the Democratic nomination for Secretary of State.
Pritt largely pulled back from politics after that… until now. She joined the Mountain Party a few years ago, saying she had grown “disgusted” with what she said has been the rightward tilt of the state Democratic Party. “Bob Wise was the last Democrat (Governor) we had,” she said.
Last weekend she accepted the Mountain Party nomination, though she says it was unexpected. “I was drafted,” she explained. Rev. Jim Lewis was expected to get the nod, but he was sidelined with knee surgery.
But being a “pinch hitter” as she described herself does not mean she’s a reluctant candidate. “I’m in it to win it,” she said. “Anyone who understands politics understands that I’m more experienced than anyone else running.”
Pritt’s established liberal bona fides may help her cull support from progressive Democrats and Independents, particularly those who backed Bernie Sanders. Remember, Sanders captured 125,000 votes in the West Virginia Primary last May, compared with only 87,000 for Hillary Clinton.
Charlotte Pritt is a prohibitive long shot to win, but Jim Justice and Bill Cole should both keep an eye on their flanks. If the one-time rising star of progressive politics in West Virginia gets some traction, it could affect the outcome of the race.