Clay County Republican Roger Hanshaw is the new Speaker of the House of Delegates and he has chosen Jefferson County Republican Riley Moore to be his Majority Leader when the House begins the 2019 session. However, their ascendance to power is fragile.
First, Republicans have to maintain control of the House. They currently have a 64-35 (1 independent) advantage, so it would take a Democratic tide to sweep them out. However, that kind of epic swing does happen occasionally. Just four years ago Democrats lost a 53-47 advantage in the House when the Republicans picked up 17 seats.
Additionally, Hanshaw has to win re-election in the 33rd District, which is made up of Calhoun and parts of Clay and Gilmer Counties. No incumbent with a challenger ever feels safe, and it is doubtful Hanshaw is over-confident, especially given his opponent and recent election results.
Democrat David Walker is challenging Hanshaw and the two have a history. Hanshaw won the seat in 2014 in a close race by knocking off Walker, who was a three-term incumbent. Walker challenged Hanshaw two years later and nearly regained the seat. Hanshaw beat Walker by just 126 votes (3,269 to 3,143).
Being elected Speaker by his fellow Republicans should give Hanshaw an additional boost this time since voters may be less likely to throw out a representative who is in a position of power and prestige in the Legislature. The district is overwhelmingly Democratic, but it also went heavily for Donald Trump in 2016.
Riley Moore, who is the grandson of former Governor Arch Moore and nephew of Senator Shelley Moore Capito, narrowly won the race in the 67th Delegate District two years ago, defeating Rod Snyder by just 96 votes (4,230 to 4134). He quickly made a name for himself at the Capitol and even briefly entered the race for Speaker.
However, he withdrew, threw his support behind Hanshaw, and started whipping votes for him. Hanshaw’s decision to announce now that Moore will be Majority Leader next session also gives Moore an important bullet point on his political resume that he can use during the campaign for re-election.
He will need that because of the make-up of his district and his opponent, Democrat John Doyle. Doyle has served two separate terms in the House for a total of 22 years before retiring from the Legislature in 2012. His long tenure means he is well-known in the district.
The 67th is a healthy mix of liberal and conservative voters. The district includes Shepherdstown, which is one of the most progressive communities in the state. The district narrowly supported Trump in 2016 (4,037 to 3,847).
Hanshaw, Moore and the rest of the House Republicans must plan ahead for the 2019 session, which is less than four months away. However, the more immediate task for this new leadership team is to first ensure that they do not take their November races for granted. History suggests their hold on those powerful leadership positions is tenuous.