Add another name to the list of potential West Virginia gubernatorial candidates in 2016: Booth Goodwin. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District is said to be extremely interested in seeking the Democratic nomination next year.
Goodwin won’t say a word publicly about a possible campaign… at least not yet. When asked for an on-the-record comment about the governor’s race, he replied simply, “Right now I’m focused on the work I’m doing as United States Attorney.”
That work, however, has the potential to raise his profile significantly. His office is prosecuting former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship on charges he conspired to violate safety and health rules that led to the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine, and the deaths of 29 miners, five years ago.
Blankenship’s trial could begin as soon as April 20 and last several weeks, generating extensive public interest and media coverage.
If Goodwin decides to run, he’ll bring a unique set of advantages to a campaign.
He’s young, at 43, and professionally accomplished. Goodwin will have a record of five years as U.S. Attorney (and before that nine years as assistant U.S. attorney) prosecuting coal mine safety violations, political scofflaws and drug dealers. That sets him apart from others who will run on their political accomplishments. His experience would play particularly well in southern West Virginia, where the Democratic Party needs to energize voters.
Goodwin is also politically connected through his family. His father, Joseph Robert, is a federal judge and former state Democratic Party Chairman. His mother, Kay, is the state Secretary of the Arts.His cousin, Carte, served briefly as U.S. Senator after Robert Byrd died and before Joe Manchin was elected. Goodwin’s wife, Amy, is currently state Tourism Commissioner. She has also served as press secretary to Governors Tomblin and Wise.
There are even more family connections to state positions and politics, but you get the idea.
However, Goodwin would also have challenges as a candidate for Governor.
He was appointed to the position by President Obama, meaning attack ads on that front are inevitable. Democrats who ran for office in West Virginia in 2014 can attest to the negative drag of Obama, even though he wasn’t on the ballot.
Goodwin is not independently wealthy. If he decides to run for Governor he will have to resign immediately from his federal position, get a job with a law firm—Goodwin and Goodwin comes to mind—and start raising significant amounts of money.
Goodwin’s dearth of campaign experience could be problematic. He’s never had to answer publicly for his positions, whatever they may be, on issues like abortion, right-to-work, crumbling roads, teacher pay and dozens of other issues a Governor must deal with.
And, of course, Manchin continues to hover over the race. Goodwin may not be afraid of him, but if Manchin does run for governor it will be hard for Goodwin—or any other Democrat for that matter—to convince voters they have a realistic chance of beating him in a Primary Election.
Goodwin may ultimately decide not to run. For all the family history in politics, the Goodwins typically have been connected players without seeking political office. However, Goodwin has enough upside to instantly become a credible candidate if he does join in the race.