W.Va. Republicans celebrate Trump win and GOP gains

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Republicans in West Virginia woke up awfully happy today.

At 3:17 a.m., party officials sent out an email blast: “WVGOP dominates state and federal races,” it said in big, red letters.

“Tonight, the voters of this state made history,” West Virginia GOP chairman Conrad Lucas stated in the release.

By and large, the Republicans took the gains they made in 2014 and expanded on them.

They maintained West Virginia’s three congressional seats, added three positions on West Virginia’s Board of Public Works — Auditor, Agriculture Commissioner and Secretary of State and built on their majority in the state Senate.

The Republican nominee for governor, Bill Cole, was defeated by Jim Justice. Cole got 42 percent of the vote to Justice’s 49 percent, according to unofficial MetroNews tallies.

Justice was a unique opponent — West Virginia’s richest man, owner of The Greenbrier Resort and a former Republican who ran on promises for economic progress, including not giving up on coal.

“It’s remarkable what Jim Justice did,” said Simon Haeder, a political science professor at West Virginia University. “He very well might be the last Democratic governor in West Virginia for a while. It’s not surprising that the down ballot races turned out more Republican.”

Justice went against the Republican tide through his personal connection to West Virginians, Haeder said.

“If you listen to him, in his victory speech, that’s a guy people can connect to,” Haeder said. “He loves the state and he can share that.”

At the top of the ballot, West Virginians voted heavily for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, as expected. Trump won 68 percent of West Virginia votes, compared to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 27 percent, according to MetroNews calculations.

Of course Trump wound up gaining the majority of Electoral College and declared victory about 3 a.m. today. Unofficial results show Trump with 276 electoral votes to Clinton’s 218.

U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito stated her congratulations to Trump this morning and expressed hope that the president-elect would pay attention to issues facing rural states like West Virginia.

“Going forward, I encourage Donald Trump and his administration to work with Congress and propose practical, not partisan solutions, to issues like expanding broadband in rural America, getting our coal miners back to work, and creating new opportunities for businesses and families who have been devastated over the last several years,” Capito said.

Trump spent an unusual amount of time and effort campaigning in rural areas, an apparently successful approach.

“I can’t say I’m really surprised,” Haeder said. “I’ve traveled a lot lately and I tried to take the back roads. All you see is Trump signs. He grasped that rural, white America was really all in with Trump. When you see that, it was really showing. You didn’t see any Clinton signs or anything at all.

“It all pivots on white, rural America really turning on Election Day and really being upset about the way things have been working for them — or not working for them. People in these rural areas, they’re really upset about the way things are going. They don’t feel like they’re getting their fair shake or their fair share. The Democratic Party — and Clinton, in particular — have not been able to make their case why these people should vote for them.”

In West Virginia, Republicans made their most notable gains on the Board of Public works. 

The GOP already held one of the positions, Attorney General, after Republican Patrick Morrisey defeated Democratic incumbent Darrell McGraw in 2012.

Morrisey faced an aggressive challenge this year from Democratic Delegate Doug Reynolds, who poured at least  $3 million of his family’s money into the race. Morrisey received millions of dollars in support from a political action committee associated with the Republican Attorney General’s Association.

Morrisey got 52 percent of the vote to Reynolds’ 42 percent, according to MetroNews figures.

“I will say I’m surprised at how well Patrick Morrisey did in comparison to Doug Reynolds,” Haeder said. “The amount outside groups were spending made you think it would be a lot closer.”

Reynolds’ performance was a symbol of the uphill challenges that Democrats have in West Virginia, Haeder said.

“If a person like Doug Reynolds can’t compete for a position like Attorney General, that doesn’t bode well for the future of the Democratic Party in West Virginia.”

In other Board of Public Works races, Republican J.B. McCuskey defeated Democrat Mary Ann Claytor, with 58 percent of the vote to 35. McCuskey takes over the office from Democrat Glen Gainer III, who had held the office since 1993 when he succeeded his own father, Glen Gainer Jr., who had been in office in 1977.

Republican state Senator Kent Leonhardt won a rematch with Democratic incumbent Walt Helmick for Agriculture Commissioner, 48 percent to 41 percent. Helmick narrowly defeated Leonhardt in 2012.

And Republican Mac Warner pulled out a squeaker over incumbent Democrat Natalie Tennant in the Secretary of State’s race, 49 percent to 47 percent. Tennant had served in the position for two terms.

The only Democrat to hold onto his Board of Public Works position was Treasurer John Perdue, who won his sixth term in the office. Perdue defeated Republican banker Ann Urling, 50 percent to 44 percent.

“It’s not surprising that the down ballot races turned out more Republican,” Haeder said. “You saw people like John Perdue hold on because people are familiar with him.”

Republicans solidified their majorities in the state Legislature. The GOP actually lost a seat in the House of Delegates but still maintain a 63-37 majority. The party picked up four seats in the state Senate. Their majority moved from a narrow 18-16 to 22-12.

West Virginia labor unions, motivated by the repeal of prevailing wage and the passage of right-to-work, mounted an aggressive campaign against Republican incumbents in the Senate. The West Virginia Family Values political action committee spent millions of dollars in advertising statewide.

Republican incumbent Chris Walters, who represented parts of Kanawha and Putnam counties, was knocked off by Democrat Glenn Jeffries, who received a lot of support from the union-backed PAC.

Otherwise, though, the Republican candidates dealt a blow to the union effort.

“You have to be really worried about the future of your organization. It’s just not looking good for unions in particular,” Haeder said. “Right-to-work is here; you’re losing funding. This is probably one of the last campaigns you’ll be able to wage for a while. You really have to think about your role in the process and how you can comp


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