WHEELING, W.Va. — In front of the building housing the law firm he used to preside over, attorney Ralph Baxter announced Tuesday he will challenge U.S. Rep. David McKinley for the 1st Congressional District as a Democrat.
Baxter served as CEO of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, having led the law firm’s 2001 launch of its Wheeling office. He left Orrick in January 2014.
He said his message is one centered around creating a better future for the state.
“My campaign is not against anyone; it is for the people of the 1st District of West Virginia,” he said in an interview following the announcement. “My campaign is going to be affirmative.
Baxter, who grew up in the Northern Panhandle, had previously thought about running for office before; he declined to run for U.S. Senate in 2014, a race that was eventually won by current U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.
Baxter identified the 350 jobs brought by Orrick as one of his qualities as a candidate. He said he wants to bring high-paying jobs to West Virginia, but it will require the cooperation of governments at multiple levels as well as businesses.
“What I have experienced over the last 16 years is when the community and all the other stakeholders in economic development work together to attract jobs to West Virginia,” he said. “We have the goods. We have the resources. We have a very appealing value proposition, but we have to work together to get that message out, connecting it to the right people and communicate that with people when the opportunities are identified.”
Baxter said he also wants to address health care costs, an issue he previously criticized McKinley for because of the four-term congressman’s vote on the American Health Care Act, the legislation to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s health care law.
“We all know what the problem is: health care is too expensive,” Baxter said Tuesday. “The costs of delivery is too high, and the insurance premiums that the individuals are required to pay are higher than they can afford.
“The debate has not really been about those subjects as much as it’s been about tax rates as part of the Affordable Care Act and other collateral issues.”
If the “Obamacare” replacement had become law, it would have resulted in 23 million more Americans losing health care coverage compared to if the current system remained in place. According to the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, one-sixth of the United States population would live in areas where nongroup markets would become unstable. Older people and those at risk of getting sick would also face higher premiums.
A representative from McKinley’s campaign did not return a request for comment regarding Baxter’s announcement.
The West Virginia Republican Party released a statement Tuesday afternoon going after Baxter, saying “leftists from San Francisco and New York” have sent in someone to take away jobs.
The party noted donations Baxter made to Democrats, including a $14,250 donation to the Obama Victory Fund in August 2008 and $4,600 he gave to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.
“When you’re on the record helping out Obama, Hillary, Planned Parenthood and the like, it’s clear your values are not ours,” state GOP Chairman Conrad Lucas said. “Targeting coal and babies destroyed the Democrat brand over the last decade here. We look forward to re-electing Congressman McKinley to again head the Coal Caucus and represent this state’s true values against the The Swamp in D.C.”
Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe was founded in San Francisco.
Baxter is aware the odds are against him — McKinley defeated Democratic challenger and former state Delegate Mike Manypenny by more than 37 points in the 2016 election — but he said he is not afraid of a challenge.
“If you sit down in a conversation with someone about politics and ask them to tell you how they make their decisions, almost everyone will tell you they vote for the person, not the party,” he said. “I have no doubt that this is a winnable race. I have a set of positions that match the aspirations and concerns of the people of the 1st District, and that I would give West Virginia a better voice than it’s had in a long time.”
McKinley announced his re-election bid in May.