MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Republican Party has become the dominant political party in West Virginia; both chambers of the state Legislature have been controlled by Republicans since January 2015, all but one executive office is led by a Republican and Gov. Jim Justice rejoined the GOP on Aug. 4 following a rally a day prior with President Donald Trump.
“With lots of prayers and lots of thoughts, today I tell you as West Virginians I can’t help you anymore being a Democratic governor,” Justice told the crowd at Huntington’s Big Sandy Superstore Arena, adding Democratic lawmakers left him during this year’s legislative session.
Trump beat Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton by 42 points in the state in the 2016 presidential election.
Delegate Jason Barrett, D-Berkeley, said legislative elections have become less local and instead driven by national figures and policies.
“That’s certainly been bad for West Virginia Democrats because of the unpopularity of (former President) Barack Obama and (former Speaker of the U.S. House) Nancy Pelosi,” he said on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
Barrett, who is in his first term, said if the party wants to grow in West Virginia, candidates have to knock on doors and show they share the same values as voters across party lines.
“We lose people every year to other states,” he said. “It’s driven by the economy. It’s driven by a poor quality of life in some circumstances.”
Delegate Andrew Robinson, D-Kanawha, also appeared on Thursday’s “Talkline.” He said he was able to win his district in the previous election by meeting people.
“When you get with someone and you make it apparent to them that you are one of them, you’re from the community and you know what the needs of the community are, I think that’s more important than partisanship,” he said. “I think the partisanship starts to become more apparent when you come down to the Capitol, but back in our communities it’s not the same.”
Democrats currently hold 12 seats in the 34-senator state Senate and 36 seats in the 100-member House of Delegates.
Robinson added the overall party should focus on issues facing West Virginians that Republicans are ignoring.
“We’re about increasing the economy, making things better for the average West Virginian,” he said. “If you want to want to work on jobs and those types of things, you elect Democrats. If you’re worried about bathrooms or statue politics or those kind of things, you send the Republicans back down to bicker among themselves.”
Republican consultant Greg Thomas said on Tuesday’s “Talkline” at least 10 Republican delegates could choose not to run because of an opportunity for a different office or a want to leave politics altogether.
“You get some of these folks that they get into this and they think it’s 60 days over the winter, and now all of a sudden they’re (spending) time away from their business or time away from their grandkids,” he said.
Barrett, whose county voted for Trump by 37 points over Clinton, added if the Democrats stay on message, the party could take control of the House of Delegates following the 2018 election cycle.
“Is it difficult? Absolutely,” he said. “We’re not just going to be playing defense in this next election with some our seats, but we’re going to have the opportunity, I think, to play some offense.”
Thomas called the idea of a Democratic Legislature is “an absolute pipe dream.”
“The political momentum for the Republicans is just too great to overcome,” he said Tuesday.