CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As early voting concluded in West Virginia, an off-year, off-beat political season raced toward the Election Day home stretch.
National attention continued to turn toward West Virginia’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate and the apparent front-runners — Congressman Evan Jenkins, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and ex-coal boss Don Blankenship, who carries a conviction for mine safety conspiracy.
Interest in the early voting period was strong, with signs pointing toward a brisk Election Day in West Virginia.
Some highlights during the last few days of primary politics in West Virginia:
Jenkins, Morrisey and Blankenship remain in the spotlight
Just before Election Day, some polls show this race getting even tighter — with the possibility that Blankenship has taken a slight lead, Politico reported Saturday night.
Morrisey announced a 1 p.m. Sunday press conference to discuss Blankenship and his criminal record.
“Morrisey will talk about Don Blankenship’s criminal record, his significant legal issues, and how his candidacy threatens West Virginia’s conservative agenda,” said the announcement of the press conference at the Robert C. Byrd United States Courthouse.
The courthouse is named for the longtime U.S. Senator from West Virginia, who was the author of a four-volume Senate history. Blankenship, Morrisey and Jenkins are vying for Byrd’s old seat. The courthouse is also the site of Blankenship’s 2010 trial and misdemeanor conviction to one year in prison.
Morrisey and Jenkins largely ignored Blankenship during a one-hour, nationally-televised debate last week on Fox News, going after each other.
That gave Blankenship plenty of openings to aim zingers like, “Let me clarify that both of these guys are right. They’re both lying.”
Greg Thomas, a spokesman for the Blankenship campaign, tweeted Saturday night that there’s no reason to bicker with Morrisey.
The voters now know all they need to know about @MorriseyWV and @DonBlankenship in order to make an informed decision on Tuesday. We see no reason to create any more wounds to heal as all of us hav the same goal—defeating Joe Manchin and Making America Great Again (2/2)
— gregthomaswv (@gregthomaswv) May 6, 2018
The competitive race — and the high-profile personalities involved — have maintained national attention.
It inspired outlets like Yahoo News to draft headlines like, “West Virginia primary features ‘a convict, a carpetbagger and a turncoat.'”
— Jon Ward (@jonward11) May 5, 2018
Meanwhile, even as Blankenship was getting attention for advertisements calling the U.S. Senate majority leader “Cocaine Mitch” and criticism for his related use of the phrase “China People,” CBS News was calling West Virginia’s primary race one of the big seven that could decide who controls the Senate.
The other Republican candidates in the race include Tom Willis, a lawyer and Green Beret; Jack Newbrough, a truck driver and Navy veteran; and Bo Copley, a laid off coal miner who challenged Hillary Clinton in 2016 during her campaign visit to West Virginia.
On the Democratic side, incumbent Joe Manchin racked up endorsements from groups like the United Mine Workers while taking on challenger Paula Jean Swearengin, a progressive and a coal miner’s daughter.
The intrigue over the Senate race was contributing to brisk activity in voting booths during the early voting period that ended Saturday.
Through Friday morning, 50,000 West Virginians had voted already, according to the Secretary of State’s office. Revised figures weren’t yet available Saturday evening.
Kanawha, the largest county in the state, continued to be active right through the end of early period with 6,569 early votes registered.
“The final tally is in, and the turnout exceeded expectations,” Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper stated in a news release.
With 141,145 registered voters in Kanawha County, that still just represents 5 percent turnout.
The county reported that 3,724 early voters were registered Democrats and 1,906 early voters were Republicans.
Jenkins’ decision to run for U.S. Senate opened up a competitive race for the seat representing the 3rd Congressional District.
Republicans in the race include Delegate Carol Miller of Huntington, former state Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas of Huntington, Delegate Rupie Phillips of Man, Delegate Marty Gearheart of Bluefield and Dr. Ayne Amjad of Beckley.
Democrats include state Senator Richard Ojeda of Logan, Delegate Shirley Love of Oak Hill and Paul Davis, general manager and chief of the Tri-State Transit Authority, headquartered in Huntington.
Over the past few days, Miller and Lucas have been exchanging fire.
Her campaign sent out mailers labeling him as a Harvard-educated elitist.
He said she shouldn’t mock educational attainment. Lucas also challenged Miller to a one-on-one debate.
And in the WV-3 GOP House race —> a debate over a Harvard degree? https://t.co/VuLYBcV2bV
— Asma Khalid (@asmamk) May 3, 2018
In the northern counties of West Virginia, Democrats Ralph Baxter, a businessman, and Kendra Fershee, a West Virginia University law professor, were vying to take on incumbent Republican Congressman David McKinley.
And Democrats Talley Sargent, who served as the state director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, and Aaron Scheinberg, an Army veteran and former nonprofit director, were competing to take on incumbent Republican Congressman Alex Mooney in the district that stretches across the center of the state.
It’s an active legislative election season too.
The most contentious race is a Republican primary showdown with Delegate Bill Hamilton challenging Senator Robert Karnes. Both live in Upshur County.
Karnes carries a reputation for controversy and was the subject of teacher resentment, and Hamilton has the backing of labor unions, which might not be a plus in a Republican primary.
Another incumbent with a primary challenge is Senator Mark Drennan, who was appointed last year to take over the seat vacated by Mike Hall, a longtime senator.
Drennan is being challenged by businessman Eric Tarr, who is no stranger to the Legislature. Tarr has served as a volunteer assistant to Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns. Both Drennan and Tarr are from Putnam County.
The House of Delegates is active in part because so many members aren’t coming back.
Nineteen delegates declined to run for the seats they’d held. That’s about one-fifth of the House of Delegates.
And several delegates who are running for re-election are very recent incumbents, having been appointed to their seats just prior to, during or even right after the past legislative session.
The most prominent departure is Speaker Tim Armstead, who is considering a 2020 run for state Supreme Court.
All the comings and goings have resulted in some newly-competitive races.
Particularly active is the Huntington district where the departing Carol Miller and Chuck Romine have run for House in the past. The remaining incumbent in that district is Democrat Sean Hornbuckle.
Republican voters in that district, the 16th, will have a choice among seven candidates. And Democrats in the district may choose among three candidates.
Election Day is Tuesday all across West Virginia.
Polls are open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
For the first time, West Virginia is requiring voters show some form of identification, although what is acceptable is fairly broad.
Want to see a sample ballot for where you live? Here’s a handy tool.
West Virginia MetroNews will feature live coverage of the statewide election starting at 7:06 p.m. Tuesday.