When redistricting cast Republican Congressmen David McKinley and Alex Mooney against each other in the new 2nd district, my first thought was McKinley had the advantage.
Every county he had been representing except one was in the new district. His reputation for working across party lines and serving the district gave him strong local ties.
Meanwhile, Mooney seemed hamstrung. His critics dismissed him as a carpetbagger from Maryland who failed to spend enough time building relationships in the communities he served.
That was the conventional wisdom, which I now note is often wrong.
The MetroNews West Virginia Poll we released last week has Mooney up 15-points over McKinley, 48 to 33, with six percent going to the other three candidates and 13 percent undecided.
(Our poll results come from 350 likely Republican and independent voters and has an error rate of +/- 5.2 percentage points.)
It is very difficult to get accurate polling numbers these days, and the smaller sample size means we should view the data as a snapshot in time and not mathematical gospel. However, I do believe they reaffirm that Mooney is in a strong position heading into Election Day.
The poll suggests that it is not McKinley, but Mooney, who has the geographical advantage. Mooney’s base is the eastern panhandle—he lives in Jefferson County—and he has a whopping 41 point advantage there.
The epicenter of that strength is Berkeley County. It is the fastest growing county in the state and 34,000 of the residents are registered Republicans, by far the most of any county in the new 2nd District, and the second most in the state after Kanawha.
McKinley’s base is the northern panhandle, and our poll shows he is ahead there, but only by 16 points. If the central counties of the state split, which our poll indicates is likely, there are not enough votes in the northern counties to make up the difference.
And then there is the Trump factor. The former president remains extremely popular in West Virginia and his endorsement served as the cornerstone of Mooney’s campaign. Mooney said his “tele-rally” with Trump last week had 25,000 listeners.
Primaries bring out the base and for the Republican Party a significant majority of those voters are Trump people. Republicans must act counter to Trump’s wishes to vote for McKinley.
Rex Repass, president of Research America, which conducted the poll, said these factors give Mooney an apparent path to victory. “Former President Donald Trump’s endorsement of Mooney, and likely voters in the Eastern Panhandle, appear to be delivering the Republican nomination for West Virginia’s new Second District seat to Mooney,” Repass said.
McKinley relied heavily during his campaign on his support of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which Mooney opposed. Normally, bringing billions of federal dollars back home for roads and bridges would be a boon for a campaign.
But Trump’s endorsement and the geography of the district relegated that thinking to the discarded pile of conventional wisdom.