Mike Oliverio wants back in. The former four-term state Senator from Monongalia County has decided to run for his old seat, the 13th District Senatorial seat now held by two-term Democrat Bob Beach.
This is a return to politics for Oliverio since he lost an ever-so-close Congressional race in 2010—more on that later—but there is one huge change; Oliverio is now a Republican. The life-long Democrat switched his party registration last October.
“I don’t think I’ve changed,” Oliverio told me Monday. “I’ve always been a moderate to conservative.” Oliverio built a reputation during his four terms in the Senate (1994-2010) as a pro-business, pro-life politician, so his party switch is not that surprising, especially given the Republican shift in the Legislature.
Oliverio does not want to be in the minority. Republicans hold a decisive 22-12 advantage in the Senate and it is highly unlikely Democrats will regain control in this year’s election. “I can do more in the majority party,” he said.
Oliverio pulled off one of the more stunning upsets in recent political history in 2010 when he defeated 14-term 1st District Congressman Alan Mollohan in the Democratic Primary Election 56 percent to 44 percent. However, Oliverio then lost in the General Election to Republican David McKinley by the narrowest of margins—just 1,440 votes (50.40% to 49.60%).
2010 was a rough year for Democratic Congressional candidates. It was the midterm of President Obama’s first term and Republicans regained control of the House with a 63 seat swing.
Oliverio retreated from politics after that, concentrating on his financial services business in Morgantown while he and his wife, Melissa, raised their two children, but he’s ready to get back in the game. “I’m still young… I have the energy,” he said. “I have missed the decision making process and I just want to make a difference.”
Republican leaders are ecstatic over Oliverio’s return because they are confident he can add to their majority in the Senate. However, Beach will have something to say about that. He also has strong name recognition after serving ten years in the House of Delegates and eight years in the Senate.
Beach ran successfully for the 13th district seat in 2010 when Oliverio vacated it to run for Congress. That year, Beach narrowly beat Republican Cindy Frich by just 206 votes (50.31% to 49.69%). Beach also had a close race four years later when he defeated Republican Kris Warner by 1,465 votes (51.49% to 45.24%, 3.27% for Harvey Bertram).
Republicans see those numbers as indicative of Beach’s vulnerability. However, he is the incumbent and the 13th District is heavily Democratic. Forty-seven percent of the voters in the District, which is made up large chunks of Monongalia and Marion Counties, are Democratic, 27 percent Republican, 21 percent Independent and the rest are in fringe parties.
But it’s worth noting that the party registration has not always translated into Democratic victories. Donald Trump won the District in 2016 with 53 percent and Republican Congressman David McKinley pulled in 55 percent of the District’s vote in 2014 and 2016. Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito narrowly carried the District in 2014 with 51 percent of the vote, but her opponent, Democrat Natalie Tennnant was from Marion County.
Half of the State Senate’s 34 seats are up in 2018 and with Oliverio’s entry, the 13th District race is definitely one to keep an eye on.