CHARLESTON, W.Va. — While much of the current attention toward national politics is split between the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump and this year’s presidential contest, it will be a busy election year in West Virginia.
Voters will consider candidates for governor, state executive offices, U.S. Congress, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, the West Virginia Legislature and local offices when they head to the polls in May and November.
Republicans control five of the state’s six elected executive offices — Democrat John Perdue has served as treasurer since 1997 — and are expected to retain control of the Office of the Governor, one of West Virginia’s U.S. Senate seats and the state’s three districts in the U.S. House of Representatives in this year’s election cycle.
The deadline for candidates interested in running this year was Jan. 25, although the state will accept late applications if postmarked by that date.
Here’s a look at this year’s federal and statewide races:
GOVERNOR (Incumbent: Gov Jim Justice)
Justice took office in January 2017 after being elected two months prior as a Democrat. Justice left the party in August 2017, announcing he was joining the Republican Party at a rally in Huntington hosted by fellow businessman-turned-politician, President Donald Trump.
When Justice announced his re-election bid last January, he listed multiple accomplishments of his tenure so far, including improved state revenues and the October 2017 road bond passage.
West Virginians are split on Justice; Morning Consult notes his approval rating is 43%, and his disapproval rating is 44%.
The governor has also faced problems within his party; Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, asked for Justice to resign last June. Multiple Republican groups passed resolutions of no confidence against Justice regarding his stance on education, including his opposition to charter schools.
Justice later signed the omnibus education bill, which opened the door for charter schools in West Virginia.
Justice faces challenges from within his party, most notably former Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher and former Delegate Mike Folk. Thrasher previously said West Virginia needs a “full-time governor,” criticizing Justice for not doing enough while in the state’s executive office.
The MetroNews West Virginia Poll in December reported 56.3% of likely GOP primary voters back Justice compared to 20.5% for Thrasher and 10.5% for Folk. Pollster Rex Repass pointed to name recognition as a significant factor affecting Justice’s lead.
Shelby Jean Fithaugh, Brooke Lunsford, Charles Sheedy Sr. and Doug Six also filed paperwork to run for governor as Republicans.
On the Democratic side, activist Stephen Smith has been running for governor since November 2018. He launched his campaign by criticizing both parties for supporting outside interests rather than addressing the state’s most pressing issues.
Smith previously served as director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, a group that advocates for issues related to poverty and education.
Boone County Senator Ron Stollings, Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango and economic developer Jody Murphy are also running for the Democratic nomination. Stollings, a doctor who has been in office since 2007, has focused his campaign on the opioid crisis, health care and economic development.
As for Salango, he’s running after three years serving on the Kanawha County Commission. He was instrumental in redeveloping Shawnee Park into a sports complex attracting regional youth sports events.
Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics rates the gubernatorial race as “likely Republican,” while Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales puts the contest as “Solid Republican.”
U.S. SENATE (Incumbent: Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.)
Capito is seeking a second term in the Senate. When she submitted the required paperwork earlier this month, she spoke of her accomplishments since taking office in January 2015, noting increasing funding for addressing the opioid crisis and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.
Capito is facing a challenge from the right; Allen Whitt, the president of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia, launched his campaign in October. Whitt said Capito was not conservative enough for West Virginians, criticizing her for opposing one of the failed attempts to repeal former President Barack Obama’s health care law and her willingness to discuss gun legislation.
West Virginia Republican Party Chairwoman Melody Potter backed Capito’s campaign in light of Whitt’s announcement, noting Capito’s strong ratings from the political arms of the National Rifle Association and National Right to Life.
Capito has also voted in line with the president’s positions 95.6% of the time according to FiveThirtyEight.
Larry Eugene Butcher, of Washington, is also running for the Republican nomination.
Activist Paula Jean Swearengin, former state Sen. Richard Ojeda and former South Charleston Mayor Richie Robb have their sights on the Democratic nomination. Analysts predict the general election race as “safe Republican.”
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES (Incumbents: Reps. David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Carol Miller)
The three Republicans each won their congressional races in 2018 by double digits, with Mooney finishing with the closest margin of the trio: 11 points over Democrat Talley Sergent.
Democrats Natalie Cline and Tom Payne are looking to defeat McKinley in the 1st Congressional District general contest. Cline lives in Wheeling and works for a software company based near Washington, D.C. Payne previously ran in 2016 for the 2nd Congressional District seat and in 2018 for the 1st Congressional District seat, losing to Mooney in the general election and Democrat Kendra Fershee in the primary respectively.
McKinley is seeking his sixth term in Congress.
While by no means an opponent of the president before the start of his current term, Mooney has been more vocal in supporting the Trump administration since the impeachment process began. He joined fellow Republican legislators in protesting the House impeachment inquiry, delaying a closed deposition by five hours. He later called the House Judiciary Committee’s vote charging the president “one of the most shameful moments in our nation’s history.”
Dr. Matthew Hahn, a physician from Berkeley Springs, is challenging Mooney on a platform centered on health care and ending political gridlock.
“My philosophy as a physician has always been to be there for my patients, meaning that when our patients are in need, we are there for them, whatever that requires,” he states on his website. “My approach with my constituents would be the same. You will see me in the community.”
Hahn joined the Republican Party in September 2019. He said he does not believe a Democrat or independent candidate can win the district.
Democrat Cathy Kunkel is not facing a primary challenger. She has experience researching energy policy, notably the impact of natural gas development and long-term energy planning. She also helped launch Rise Up West Virginia in 2017; the organization’s platform includes social justice causes and increasing access to health care.
Miller is in her first year in Congress and was the only new Republican woman when she joined the House in January 2019. She arrived in Washington, D.C., after 12 years in the West Virginia Legislature. Russell Siegel is challenging Miller for the party’s nomination.
Democrats Paul Davis, Jeff Lewis, Hilary Turner and Lacy Watson will face off in the primary election.
Secretary of State Mac Warner is seeking a second term, but will have to beat former Secretary Natalie Tennant first. Warner, a Republican, defeated the two-term Democrat Tennant in the 2016 general election.
J.B. McCuskey is also seeking four more years in office. McCuskey, the state auditor, will face off against Mary Ann Claytor in November.
John Perdue is the only elected Democrat in a statewide office. Perdue is seeking a seventh term as treasurer, yet former Delegate Riley Moore hopes to win.
Roy Ramey is challenging Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt in the Republican primary election. The winner will run against Monongalia County Sen. Bob Beach, Dave Miller or former Hardy County Commission President William “J.R.” Keplinger in November.
Two years after losing in his U.S. Senate bid, Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey wants a third term in Charleston. He will run against Pendleton County Delegate Isaac Sponaugle or Beckley attorney Sam Petsonk following the May primary.
STATE SUPREME COURT
Three seats on the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia will be decided in the May primary election. Each contest is non-partisan.
Chief Justice Tim Armstead is completing the term of former Justice Menis Ketchum, who retired in the middle of his 12-year term after questions regarding his use of a state vehicle and travel reimbursements. David Hummel Jr. and former Justice Richard Neeley are also vying for the seat.
Kanawha County Family Circuit Judge Jim Douglas, Putnam County Assistant Prosecutor Kristina Raynes, Kanawha County Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit and Raleigh County attorney Bill Wooton are competing for the seat currently occupied by Justice Margaret Workman, who did not file any paperwork.
John Hutchison joined the bench in January 2019 after the conviction and resignation of Allen Loughry. Hutchison served as circuit judge in Raleigh County before joining the state Supreme Court. Jackson County Circuit Judge Lora Dyer and Charleston attorney Bill Schwartz are challenging Hutchison.
Seventeen seats in the state Senate and all 100 seats in the House of Delegates will be up in November.
Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion; Senate Minority Whip Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, Sens. Paul Hardesty, D-Logan, and Kenny Mann, R-Monroe; House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison; and House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer; are not running for new terms in the Legislature.
The primary election is scheduled for May 12, and the general election will take place on Nov. 3.