Early list for WV Governor’s race

The West Virginia Primary Election is still 13 months away (May 10, 2016), but several people have already emerged as possible or probable Gubernatorial candidates.  Here’s a short list:

–Jeff Kessler. The Democratic state Senator from Marshall County is the first to declare his intentions. He filed his pre-candidacy papers last month, saying he was not going to be afraid to embrace his party.  Kessler and a few others have criticized the approach of many West Virginia Democrats in the last election who distanced themselves from the party because of the unpopularity of President Obama.

–Joe Manchin. The U.S. Senator and former Governor continues to keep everyone guessing.  His standard answer to the question is that he’s keeping his options open, but will decide sometime this spring.  A Manchin bid for a third term as Governor seemed more likely a few months ago, but he seems to have grown more comfortable now in Washington.

–David McKinley.  The 1st District Republican Congressman told me on Talkline recently that he’s giving the Governor’s race “a lot of consideration.”  McKinley, who was first elected to Congress in 2010, is making stops outside his northern West Virginia district to try to feel out the level of support.  “We’re doing fact-finding,” he said. “At this point in my life, I’m not looking for another career. I’m trying to find out what’s the best way that we can help turn this economy around.”

–Bill Cole.  The Mercer County Republican was first elected to the state Senate in 2012, but he quickly rose to Senate President and is now frequently mentioned as a possible candidate for Governor.  Right now, it appears to be a 50/50 proposition for Cole, who likes his Senate job and is concerned about the time commitment of statewide office. “I truly want to do what’s best for my state,” Cole told me, “but I also have family and business interests… I have commitments there.”  He indicates  he’ll make a decision soon.

–Patrick Morrisey.  West Virginia’s Republican Attorney General is weighing a bid for Governor.  “I am considering that option in addition to a number of others,” Morrisey said on Talkline.  Morrisey formed a 2016 committee in January and has been furiously raising money.  His campaign finance report filing later this week will show that in just two months he’s raised $310,000 and loaned the committee another $250,000.  His report will show about $550,000 cash on hand.  Morrisey is still paying back a $1.27 million loan he made to his 2012 campaign.

Some lingering observations about where the race stands now:

–The Republican Governor’s Association is said to be okay with McKinley, Cole or Morrisey and sees a pathway to victory for each.  However, it would be disastrous for the GOP if all three ran.  Each is up for re-election next year so they would lose incumbents in three other races.  Also, a bruising three-way primary would soften up the nominee for the Democratic opponent.

–Manchin remains the biggest player at this stage.  His entry would shift the dynamic dramatically. He immediately becomes the frontrunner and likely forces others to change their minds about running for Governor.   Manchin is not up for re-election until 2018, so he could run for Governor and keep his current seat.

–You cannot rule out a UWM candidate (unknown with money). West Virginia is a small state, but there are still some successful people here who have not been involved in politics but have the resources to mount a serious campaign.  A Gaston Caperton or Bill Maloney-type can quickly upset the conventional political landscape.


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