Darrell McGraw throws curveball at Supreme Court filing deadline

The biggest bombshell of the last-minute election filings in West Virginia came when Darrell McGraw submitted papers to run for the State Supreme Court. The Democrat had been out of the political discussion since his 2012 loss to Republican Patrick Morrisey in the attorney general’s race, and his filing caught many political observers off guard.

McGraw is 79 years old and, if elected, would be 92 at the end of a 12-year term on the court. But despite his age and his defeat in 2012, it would be a mistake to take his candidacy lightly.

The Legislature changed the law last year, making the State Supreme Court race (and other judicial contests) a non-partisan election that takes place on primary election day. That’s just a little over three months away (May 10). An abbreviated campaign favors the candidate with name recognition and McGraw clearly has that.

Additionally, it is a plurality vote, meaning the winner does not have to have a majority, just more votes than anyone else.

This year’s Supreme Court race features five candidates: Incumbent Justice Brent Benjamin, Wayne King, McGraw, Beth Walker and Bill Wooten. Theoretically, just over 20 percent of the vote would be enough to win the election.

Voter turnout in West Virginia in the last presidential primary (2012) was only 24 percent, just over 292,000 votes. If turnout for this year’s primary is similar, 60,000 votes could be enough to win.

You would not expect five candidates to divide all the votes evenly, but the more candidates in the race, the lower percentage you need to win.

McGraw can get votes. He received 313,830 in the loss to Morrisey (329,854), though that was a two-person race and a general election, which had a much higher overall voter turnout than the primary (670,000 to 292,000).

However, it’s worth noting that Benjamin has already defeated a McGraw once, in the 2004 Supreme Court race when he unseated Darrell’s younger brother, Warren, 382,036 to 334,301. Also, Walker received 329,395 in the 2008 Supreme Court race, coming in third in the race for two seats behind Democrats Menis Ketchum and Margaret Workman.

Of course statewide campaigns—even abbreviated ones—require money.  Benjamin and Wooten both say they have met the requirements to qualify for the Public Campaign Finance Fund. Once certified by the State Election Commission, each campaign will receive nearly $500,000. Walker is bypassing public financing and has raised $360,000 so far.

It’s unclear how much money McGraw will have to spend. He has not filed any financial statements and the deadline has passed to qualify for public financing.

Darrell McGraw’s entry into the race is a curious, unexpected move, but then again, the McGraws have always marched to their own beat.

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