CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Although the governor’s race isn’t on the ballot during this primary election season, it’s certainly on the minds of those who may be interested in the job.
Gov. Jim Justice has just over two years left on his final term, but it’s still not clear who has emerged as the next candidates who will step up and pick up the reins.
Democrats find themselves in a difficult position. Justice was elected as a Democrat, but soon afterward switched parties. He was then reelected as a Republican as the state became and even deeper shade of red.
Longtime Democratic political strategist Mike Plante says it’s left a lot of Democrats struggling.
“When I moved here in 1992, it was a solid blue state. In that period of time the pendulum has swung the other way so it’s a tough row to hoe for any Democrat and that’s shortened the bench considerably,” Plante said.
The shortlist of potential candidates among observers like Plante are Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango who was soundly defeated by Justice in the last Gubernatorial election. Plante said at that time Salango wasn’t well known, but that has apparently changed.
“I saw a poll recently that tested likely candidates and because of that past race, Ben has about 80% name recognition statewide. Anybody with 80% name recognition has to be a strong possibility to run,” he said.
Plante also believed Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin and Huntington Mayor Steve Williams are also strong possibilities to seek the nomination in a couple of years from the Democratic Party.
As for Republicans, there’s no shortage of the GOP members ready to hit the campaign trail with some political acumen.
“If you’re in elected statewide office or if you’re a business person who has the resources and you’ve got an interest in politics, this is a better time than most to look at something like this,” said Republican strategist Greg Thomas.
According to Thomas, everybody on the Board of Public Works could be considered formidable.
“Riley Moore is a superstar. J.B. McCuskey has done a great job as auditor and is going to be around for a while. Patrick Morrisey, I tend to believe is probably going to run for Senate again, but if the doesn’t he would be hard to beat and Kent Leonhardt has done a good job as agriculture commissioner,” explained Thomas.
He also suggested businessmen Chris Miller, the son of Congresswoman Carol Miller is a strong candidate and former state Senator Jeff Mullins.
Miller isn’t waiting. He’s already declared he’s in it..
“I’ve watched politics and politicians for a long time and one of the things that has always perplexed me is they never effectively say what they mean or do what they say. I wanted to be very, very clear about who I was, what my intentions were and commit.” Miller told MetroNews.
He believes the state is in a unique position with a lot of good things happening, but there are also potential pitfalls on the horizon, particularly with healthcare. He believes he has the skills to navigate the state through the difficult water with his business an entrepreneurial background.