CHARLESTON, W.Va. — When President Donald Trump was inaugurated in January, Republicans had already been in control of both congressional chambers for more than two weeks. Conservative influence over the federal government was extended to the Supreme Court in April when the Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch as an associate justice.
As 2017 closes, however, the Democratic Party has gained significant momentum and appears ready to challenge Republicans nationwide. Democrats won control over the governor’s office and legislative body in New Jersey, as well as Virginia’s governorship. Virginia Republicans have a 21-19 majority in the state Senate, and control over the House of Delegates is down to one race being challenged in court.
There is also the win by Democrat Doug Jones in the Alabama special election earlier this month, defeating Republican Roy Moore in one of the nation’s reddest states.
Additionally, forty-four percent of respondents in an Economist-YouGov poll released Wednesday said they would vote for Democratic candidates in 2018, compared to 36 percent of the 1,500 participants who would vote for Republicans in congressional races. The poll was conducted between Dec. 24 and 26.
Yet despite the national trends, latest analyses shows West Virginia’s Senate race, which is being held by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, as being the only competitive contest in the Mountain State in terms of federal seats.
Sabato’s Crystal Ball rated the West Virginia Senate race as “leans Democrat” in its Dec. 13 map. The Cook Political Report ranked the state’s Senate race as a “toss up” on Dec. 15, as did Inside Elections in its findings.
In regards to the three House of Representative races, Sabato’s Crystal Ball noted the 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts as “safe Republican” in its Dec. 18 ratings. The website listed the 3rd Congressional District as “likely Republican.” Inside Elections rated each congressional district as “solid Republican.”
Let’s look at the four races and each contest’s top candidates, starting with what is expected to be the most competitive race:
U.S. SENATE (Incumbent: Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.)
According to FiveThirtyEight, Manchin has voted 53.6 percent in line with Trump’s positions. Manchin has visited the White House on multiple occasions, including a visit on Dec. 18, a day before the House of Representatives voted to pass the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and two days before the Senate acted on the bill. The House voted again on the legislation Dec. 20 after provisions were removed to comply with the Byrd Rule.
Manchin, who was first elected to the Senate in 2010, seems to have a warm relationship with the Trump administration, saying he can better connect with the current president than he was able to with former President Barack Obama.
“Most every time I’ve been with him in person, it’s a completely different persona than what you’re seeing on television,” he said of Trump in September. “I’ve always had a very easy way of talking to him and we’ve been able to talk on terms we’ve both understood.”
Yet Manchin voted against the president’s two biggest legislative pushes, repealing and replacing the current health care law and tax overhaul legislation. Manchin said in both cases he would have preferred if legislators worked in a bipartisan manner rather than relying on a party-line vote. He even led a press conference in November with 14 Democratic lawmakers who wanted to work on passing a bipartisan tax bill.
“I was an easy pickup. A very easy pickup,” Manchin told Politico last week of the tax bill. “Two to three other Democrats would have been very easy pickups if they just made an effort.”
Manchin’s likely two strongest challengers — U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey — have worked to sell themselves as the more conservative option compared to each other. Jenkins said in his campaign launch video “for eight years, West Virginia has been put down and disrespected, left to fend for ourselves while Obama radically transformed America in his image.”
Morrisey has gone after both Manchin and Jenkins on Twitter, calling himself the “true conservative” referencing Jenkins joining the Republican Party in 2013 after serving in the West Virginia Legislature as a Democrat.
The Jenkins campaign has had its own share of jabs against Morrisey, including in regards to donations made to Morrisey’s campaign by lawyers and lobbyists tied to the pharmaceutical industry. Jenkins pledged in October to return all donations made to his campaign from pharmaceutical companies.
Manchin led both Jenkins and Morrisey in September’s MetroNews West Virginia Poll; Manchin held a 10-point lead over Jenkins and a 14-point lead over Morrisey.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee has also focused its attention on Manchin, noting his ties to Mylan — where his daughter serves as CEO — and the company’s production of opioids.
Former coal miner Bo Copley, of Delbarton, announced his campaign for the Republican nomination in May, and activist Paula Jean Swearengin said the same month she would challenge Manchin in the Democratic race.
“He’s made it clear that he serves the coal industry and not coal miners and their communities,” Swearengin said in June while campaigning in Charleston. “It’s obvious that our leaders are not going to do anything and when coal is gone, we really don’t have a plan B. We deserve a diverse and equal and fair economic infrastructure.”
Then there is Don Blankenship. The former Massey Energy CEO launched his campaign in November, centering his message around the handling of the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster. Blankenship’s first campaign advertisement claimed Obama and the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration covered up information on the explosion that killed 29 miners. Fact-checking organization Politifact gave the claim its “Pants on Fire” rating, noting a lack of supportive information.
Blankenship served a year sentence after being found guilty of conspiring to violate federal mine safety laws.
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 1ST CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT (Incumbent: Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va.)
McKinley sits pretty comfortably going into next year’s race. The four-term congressman has won every race since 2012 by at least 27 percentage points, defeating former state Delegate Mike Manypenny by more 37 points in the most recent election.
McKinley voted in favor of efforts to repeal and replace “Obamacare,” as well as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. He has also pushed for the creation of a natural gas storage facility in West Virginia.
Two Democrats have announced they are looking to challenge McKinley next November. Ralph Baxter, the former CEO of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, said one of his goals is to bring high-paying jobs to West Virginia, working with governments and businesses to create partnerships.
“I have no doubt that this is a winnable race,” Baxter said in September. “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.”
Kendra Fershee, associate dean for academic affairs at West Virginia University, posted on her campaign website lawmakers are the problem in making West Virginians successful.
“They are not fighting for you or your community at the ground level. They are doubling down on a failed attempt to give money to the top 1% in the hopes that some of that will drip down to you, even though it never does,” she said. “You deserve a teammate who fights with and for you, your kids, and your community.”
Fershee’s platform includes tackling the opioid epidemic with increased resources — including the national legalization of medicinal marijuana — and building “economic and individual stability” by improving health care and education.
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 2ND CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT (Incumbent: Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va.)
While rating organizations have listed the 2nd District as safe, the Democratic Congressional Conference Committee has its sights set on taking Mooney down, listing the 2nd and 3rd Districts as “majority maker districts.”
The DCC launched a campaign in August concerning the lack of public town halls. While Mooney has held telephone town halls, the DCCC said it has been more than 1060 days since Mooney held such a forum in person.
Mooney spokesperson Ted Dacey said the campaign was a “silly partisan attack” upon its launch.
Similar to McKinley and Jenkins, Mooney voted alongside Republicans on the health care and tax bills. He also introduced a bill in November that would repeal a provision requiring mining companies to publicly report safety violations.
Three Democrats announced this year their intents to challenge Mooney, who is in his second term in federal office. U.S. Army veteran Aaron Scheinberg and former State Department official Talley Sergent both announced their respective campaigns in July.
“We’re deeply divided, our representatives in Congress lack the courage and the will to act,” Scheinberg said in his campaign announcement. “We need a fresh, new generation of leaders who can unite us, keep us healthy, rebuild our economy, and bring ‘service’ back into public service.”
Sergent, who also served as state director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, has been releasing videos on Twitter since October regarding her campaign and political topics, such as the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
“I’m fired up about what’s happening in Washington right now,” she said in a Dec. 6 video. “They are just running around hog wild and they are not making good decisions for West Virginia.”
Tom Payne, of Martinsburg, is also running for the seat, according to a Nov. 2 editorial written by him in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 3RD CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT (Incumbent: Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va.)
With Jenkins campaigning for the Republican Senate nomination, Democrats and Republicans alike have announced their campaigns for the open seat.
Democrats who have announced they are running include Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, state Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, and Paul Davis, the general manager and CEO of Tri-State Transit Authority.
Williams previously served in the House of Delegates from 1987 to 1994, and in 2008 was elected to the Huntington City Council. Huntington won America’s Best Communities competition in April, which include a $3 million prize that will go toward redeveloping buildings and establishing a research hub.
The city has also seen an increase in violence this year, with 19 homicides being reported so far. The West Virginia State Police, Cabell County Sheriff’s Department and West Virginia National Guard have increased presence in the city as part of the efforts to combat the matter.
Ojeda, who is in his first term in state Senate, wrote in a Dec. 15 editorial for The Hill the Democratic Party must do a better job in gaining the trust of rural voters.
“For years, Democrats have depended on heavily populated areas within their districts to carry them and have ignored rural communities. This is unacceptable,” he said. “All Americans deserve to see, speak to and hear from our candidates. No county is insignificant, no community too small, and each person’s vote is important.”
Ojeda sponsored the Creating West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act during the 2017 legislative session, which was signed into law in April. As a result of the law’s passage, doctors will be allowed to prescribe medical cannabis beginning in July 2019.
As for Davis, he has 29 years of experience with Tri-State Transit Authority, starting out as a bus driver.
Five Republicans have announced their campaigns so far for the seat: Delegate Carol Miller, R-Cabell, Delegate Rupie Phillips, R-Logan, Dr. Ayne Amjad, of Beckley, former Delegate Rick Snuffer and West Virginia Republican Party Chair Conrad Lucas.
Miller has served in the House of Delegates since January 2007, and is a member of the Agriculture and Natural Resouces, Finance, House Rule and Small Business and Economic Development committees.
Phillips left the Democratic Party in January to serve as an Independent, saying on MetroNews “Talkline” he felt left behind by the current party.
“In my district, I have a lot of life, longtime Democrats and they need a voice in Charleston to represent their choices and, I feel being independent, I can do that,” he said.
Phillips announced he would run for the 3rd District seat as a Republican less than four months later.
Lucas said in November he wanted to see conservative values represented in Washington.
“I know President Trump is under attack by a lot of folks in the liberal media and a lot of folks in Congress and I look forward to standing there on his side to represent West Virginia and the way West Virginia deserves to be represented,” he said on MetroNews “Talkline.”
The West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office will accept certificates of announcements from Jan. 8 to midnight on Jan. 27. Candidates for both Senate and House races have to also pay a filing fee of $1,740. If an individual raises or spends more than $5,000, they are required to register with the Federal Election Commission.
The primary election will be held May 8. Election day is Nov. 8.