Typically, political party leaders prefer to stay on the sidelines in Primary Elections. The standard refrain is that they want party members to decide and then they will support the nominee, whoever that is.
But that is not the case in the race for the Republican nomination for Congress in West Virginia’s new 2nd Congressional District.
Congressman Alex Mooney landed the biggest endorsement of all—former President Donald Trump. Mooney is not going to let anyone forget he is Trump’s chosen one for the seat. His advertisements and mailings prominently feature the Trump endorsement.
That is powerful considering Trump has won West Virginia twice, in 2016 and 2020, and carried every county in the state.
However, Congressman David McKinley has secured a prominent endorsement of his own—Republican Governor Jim Justice. This week Justice issued a statement in support of McKinley and critical of Mooney, including Mooney’s previous election in Maryland.
“Congressman McKinley has never been elected to serve in another state’s Legislature (Congressman Mooney has), been the chairman of another state’s Republican Party (Congressman Mooney has), or been under an active federal investigation* (Congressman Mooney has),” the statement read.
Justice then added that he had only met with Mooney once since becoming Governor, but that he sees and talks with McKinley “all the time.”
Justice has also agreed to serve as the “special guest” at a fundraiser for McKinley in Charleston next month.
So, how much difference will these endorsements make? Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said that it depends.
“The value of endorsements is hard to quantify, and the one that Mooney has from former President Trump is likely the most valuable available to either of the candidates,” Kondik told me. “But McKinley winning Justice’s backing could be important, and it also shows that at least some top West Virginia Republicans are not just going to fall in line behind the former president.”
That is a key point. Justice is a huge Trump supporter. In fact, his statement in support of McKinley includes his disagreement with the Congressman’s initial vote in support of a bipartisan investigation of Jan. 6th. (That failed in the Senate and McKinley voted against a select committee the second time, contending it was too partisan.)
Justice’s backing of McKinley could create a pathway for other Republicans who would normally stay on the sidelines but feel more comfortable openly supporting the Congressman because they are on the same team as the Governor.
The Primary Election will force all Republicans who vote to choose sides in this hotly contested race. It will be worth watching to see how many GOP leaders decide to make their candidate choice known between now and the May election.
*(The House Ethics Committee is investigating allegations Mooney used campaign money for personal expenses.)