Democrat Ben Salango to take on incumbent Governor Justice

Over a four-year period, Gov. Jim Justice has now won both the Democratic and Republican primaries for governor.

Democrat Ben Salango, a Kanawha County Commissioner, will be his opponent, MetroNews projects. Salango, a plaintiffs attorney from Charleston, took a big lead over his closest challenger, Stephen Smith.

By 10:40 p.m., Salango had 64,000 votes to Smith’s 55,000.

“They all ran great races,” Salango said on MetroNews’ Primary Election coverage. “We all know we couldn’t build West Virginia up by tearing West Virginia down.”

Of incumbent Governor Justice, Salango said, “West Virginians want new leadership.”

Justice was declared a winner only about an hour after polls closed this evening. He led his closest challenger, Woody Thrasher, by 63 percent to 18 percent well into the evening.

“I thought I was up by 40, but I’ll take 50,” Justice said about the margin on MetroNews’ coverage. “In all seriousness, I’m very thankful to the voters.”

Justice is running for re-election as a Republican. He won election in 2016 as a Democrat before changing parties a few months into his term.

He was running in a Primary Election field that had nine Republican candidates including former state Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher and former Delegate Mike Folk. Another Republican who put significant resources into the race was Doug Six, who manages a poultry processing facility and previously worked in real estate.

Thrasher and Folk challenged Justice to a debate, but the incumbent governor said he was too busy managing West Virginia’s response to the coronavirus.

Justice, on multiple occasions, said he had not even visited his campaign headquarters in downtown Charleston.

Justice, known as West Virginia’s only billionaire, has put significant personal wealth into his campaign. The incumbent governor had loaned his campaign $1.5 million, according to the most recent campaign finance reports.

Thrasher, owner of a big engineering company, had loaned his campaign $3.4 million through the most recent campaign finance reporting period.

Thrasher conceded during a speech this evening.

The Democratic side also features a vigorous contest with six candidates.

The field was somewhat late in forming because U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, a former governor, spent months considering a run before publicly declining to do so.

The field that took shape included state Senator Ron Stollings, a physician from Boone County, Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango, who is a lawyer, and community organizer Stephen Smith, who ran on a progressive platform with like-minded candidates called “West Virginia Can’t Wait.”

Those three candidates debated on multiple occasions, although most were before social distancing measures went into effect.

Stephen Smith

Smith’s concession speech said the election was still a victory for West Virginia Can’t Wait.

“Compared to any slate before us, we are the truest representation of the people of West Virginia: working and middle class, brown and black and white, gay and straight and queer, young and middle aged and old.

“Unfortunately, I am not one of those candidates who has advanced.”
 





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