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Ready, set … November

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Secretary of State Natalie Tennant celebrates her Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat in the 2014 Primary Election. Secretary of State Natalie Tennant celebrates her Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat in the 2014 Primary Election.
U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito,R-W.Va., won the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat in the 2014 Primary Election. U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito,R-W.Va., won the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat in the 2014 Primary Election.

By MANDI CARDOSI

and ERIN TIMONY

Throughout torrential downpours and gusty winds, the 2014 West Virginia Primary Elections May 13 powered through in the Mountain State, despite power outages at a few precincts throughout the night.

With few upsets and a low turnout, West Virginia voters elected a few new faces for the opportunity to take office, but the state’s general track record of electing incumbents continued.

Power went out in Boone and Logan counties to the south as well as a few Eastern Panhandle counties, but voting continued on iVotronics with battery backups, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

U.S. Senate race

The conclusion of the race for the U.S. Senate has the potential to create unique results.

It’s likely a woman will take the spot for the first time, and a Republican could take the seat for the first time in nearly 60 years.

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant won the Democratic seat for the race and U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito was declared the winner on the Republican ticket.

Making history

Robert Rupp, a political science and history professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College, said the key thing with this race in particular is that history will be made, and West Virginia electing its first female U.S. Senator is part of it.

“That’s big because this state is more of a patriarchal state,” he said. “That robbed Shelley of her strength. She always had that air or cliché of being the first or opening a door, but we’re going to make history in terms of gender; the strong possibility we’re going to make history in terms of electing for the first time since 1956, a Republican to a full term in the U.S. Senate.”

According to research from Rutgers University, nine women are running for open seats in five states and another 16 women are running as challengers in 12 states. Women in both parties are running for nomination, with the potential for woman vs. woman general election contests in Georgia, Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.

Sixteen current female senators are not up for re-election.

If Tennant wins, she will vacate her position as Secretary of State. The recent tendency of statewide incumbents to run for office raises the possibility of another “musical chair” in West Virginia for only a few years, Rupp added, pointing out that West Virginia “loves incumbency and hates change.”

Tennant spoke on election night at her campaign headquarters in Charleston, accompanied by her daughter, Delaney, and husband, Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha.

“Your dedication is what’s going to bring us across the finish line come November,” Tennant said to her crowd of supporters. “I’m grateful to David Wamsley and Dennis Melton, and everyone who ran across West Virginia in both parties.”

Tennant said she admires anyone who gets involved in running for office.

“To my fellow candidates, it’s not easy to jump into the ring, but our democracy is so much stronger because of those who chose to get involved,” she said.

Challenge issued

While she congratulated Capito on her victory, she also announced a challenge of five televised debates during the campaign trail.

“She is on the wrong side for West Virginia,” Tennant said of Capito. “Her record shows it — that she has voted against equal pay for equal work. She has supported privatizing social secretary and she has voted to cut veterans benefits.”

Capito responded on election night, explaining “of course” the two would debate from now until November.

“I’ve always debated in races,” Capito said. “Debate is a great thing and I can’t wait to debate her and ask her pointed questions like, ‘how would you have voted on the Affordable Care Act?’”

Capito said becoming the first female U.S. Senator from West Virginia is not the most important thing for her in the race.

“I think it’s great West Virginia is going to have a woman senator,” Capito said. “But I think it’s about what I can do for the state.”

The totals on May 13t were not official, but Tennant led Melton and Wamsley with 78 (102,860 total) percent of votes.

Capito led Matthew Dodrill and Larry Eugene Butcher with 87 (73,680 total) percent of votes for the Republican ticket.

Staying on message

Tennant said she was running for the Senate seat to “put West Virginia first.” She said she would tackle the drug abuse problem in the state, as well as fighting the “gridlock” in Washington, D.C.

“West Virginia has the skill and know-how to lead the country in technology and manufacturing,” Tennant previously told The State Journal. “I will protect today’s coal jobs from EPA regulations, invest in tomorrow’s coal jobs with advanced coal technology and promote natural gas.”

Capito said if she wins she would put an end to President Barack Obama’s war on West Virginia’s natural resources by promoting the state’s energy jobs. She previously told The State Journal there is a need to refocus on the nation’s spending priorities that would include infrastructure investments in the Mountain State to compete nationally and globally for new jobs.

Tera McCown, political science professor at the University of Charleston, said it will be interesting to see what happens in the November election.

She said while Tennant has name recognition, she has shown her approval of many issues at the national level that West Virginians do not support.

“Natalie Tennant has been vocal,” McCown said. “She supports positions that West Virginians do not.”

And West Virginians are not the only ones who are against issues like the Affordable Healthcare Act.

Capito risks her seat in the U.S. House of Representatives with her run against Tennant.

Capito said she will campaign vigorously for the next few months, while she will do her job in Congress at the same time.

“I’m not going to get into the personal attacks and mudslinging — that’s just not my style and I think West Virginians are tired of that.”

Capito said her reason for running is to make a bigger impact on West Virginia and the biggest and best way to do that is by way of the U.S. Senate.

U.S. House District 1

One U.S. House race was decided as soon as the candidate list was finalized.

Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., had no opponents on the Republican ballot to hold his seat and West Virginia Auditor Glen B. Gainer II was unopposed on the Democratic ticket for the seat.

McKinley, of Wheeling, formerly ran the architecture and engineering company McKinley and Associates.

He served in the West Virginia House of Delegates from 1981-1994 and was chairman of the WV Republican Party Executive Committee in 1990. McKinley unseated long-time Democratic Rep. Alan Mollohan for the seat in 2011.

Gainer, of Parkersburg, has been the state’s auditor since 1993. His current term in that office lasts through 2016. Gainer’s father served as West Virginia auditor from 1997 to 1993.

West Virginia University political science Professor Neil Berch said West Virginia was different from most other states because it will have three contested U.S. House races in November.

“Usually a House incumbent runs against insignificant challengers,” Berch said. “Instead, West Virginia has an open seat that is very competitive and two incumbents facing serious challenges.”

Berch said the race hasn’t gotten much attention, but Gainer is a long-time state official whom every voter in the district has seen on their ballots multiple times, “so he’s not starting out with the disadvantage a lot of House candidates start with.”

“Glen Gainer is not running for Congress just for fun,” he said.

U.S. House District 2

In the race for House District 2, there was no shortage of candidates from which to choose.

After polls closed and the votes were tallied, the voters selected two first-time West Virginia candidates: Nick Casey for the Democratic ticket and Alex Mooney to carry the Republican ticket and face-off in the November general election.

With Capito leaving her 14-year seat open to enter the race for U.S. Senate, candidate interest was heavily piqued.

Charles Rusty Webb, attorney at the Webb Law Firm PLLC in Charleston who also served in the House of Delegates from 1996-2002, pointed out certain trends both parties followed.

Berch said it’s unusual to have two former party chairmen running head-to-head.

“You have two very politically connected people running — usually people who run for Congress (the first time) are not that prominent, and getting prominence and momentum are one of the main tasks in the campaign,” Berch said. “Here, we’re starting out with two people who have tremendous experience in terms of running and running other candidates.”

Mooney in the lead

A former Maryland lawmaker who currently lives in Charles Town in the state’s Eastern Panhandle, Mooney raised more money for his campaign than his GOP opponents combined, with the bulk of it coming from donors outside the state.

In the first quarter of 2014, Mooney took in more than $164,000. Since launching his run last June, Mooney raised more than $562,000 overall, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. He took 65 percent of votes in his home county of Jefferson.

According to Webb, Mooney had inside establishment endorsements and enjoyed the support of the “Who’s Who of the conservative wing of the Republican Party.”

Webb also pointed out that Mooney spent more money than his Democratic opponents.

A talking point for the November general election, Webb said, will be Mooney’s issue of residency. He’s a former Maryland Republican Party chairman and recently moved to the Mountain State, declaring his candidacy for the 2014 race shortly thereafter.

While Webb predicted a Mooney win in November, Rupp wasn’t so sure. What helped Mooney win in the Primary Election, Rupp said, was his campaign.

“One aspect was that Mooney showed the power of infrastructure and advertising,” Rupp said. “He started his advertising early and often.

“He built up a good infrastructure in terms of the organization that money can buy. I suppose what surprises me is the fact that Mooney was viewed as an outsider, while (Attorney General Patrick) Morrisey did the same thing before. … Traditional West Virginians would shy away from someone who just moved to the state.”

Casey tops the ticket

While celebrating with family and friends in downtown Charleston and awaiting election results, Casey was declared the winner over running mate and current Delegate Meshea Poore, who had 47 percent of the votes in her home county of Kanawha.

With Casey’s win, Rupp pointed out several potential issues that will make the November General Election a challenge.

Being former chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, Casey’s roots may be just a little too Democratic for those in the Mountain State, Rupp said, and Casey may have to lose some of his “Democratic baggage.”

Given the Mountain State’s general dislike for Obama, his perceived “war on coal” and Democratic liberalism, Casey’s years as the face of the party may make it hard for him to distance his platforms the Washington Democrats.

Power shifts

Webb says not only is there a power shift occurring in the state with a lean toward the Republican Party, but also a move in the concentration of power, shifting due to outside suspicion of the Capital City.

“There’s a political power shift from the southern part of the state to the Eastern Panhandle,” he said.

Rupp agrees.

“We’re seeing the importance of the Eastern Panhandle for the first time, and when two candidates from the Eastern Panhandle get more than 50 percent of the vote statewide, that again shows the increasing importance of the Eastern Panhandle in West Virginian politics and will set up for probably the first time a regional confrontation between Kanawha County and Jefferson County,” he said.

Webb said he predicted all along that Mooney would win because of the number of candidates running out of the Kanawha Valley.

In Kanawha County, Mooney enjoyed 23.07 percent of the vote, while local candidates Charlotte Lane received 26.86 percent and Steve Harrison pulled in 25.98 percent. In Jefferson and Morgan counties, Lane’s percentage of the vote was in the single digits.

Webb says the trends all mean good news for young people running for office. Webb said people are more open to newer and younger faces and often associate youth with new leadership.

Party trends

When it comes to the state as a whole, Webb said the Republican lean really started with the election of Morrisey. Webb pointed out that there has been a renewed willingness and desire among young Democrats to run for office, usurping the seats of older and more established Democrats.

“With redistricting and changes, young Democrats are willing to take on established Democrats,” he said.

Cross-marketing in both parties is another trend Webb noticed. He said many candidates are attorneys, and he’s noticed many of them — as well as doctors and some other professionals — buying billboards without political messages. He also noted that everyone is using media and public relations consultants.

“The logos, billboards, ads, tag lines and commercials are all professional,” he said. “Both sides are taking it another level. It looks like congressional or presidential races.”

And that’s something Berch said adds up.

“They’re both strong candidates … and millions of dollars are going to be spent in that race,” he said. “You have an open seat; there aren’t that many of those, and both parties are going to focus on it.

“They’re both strong candidates, and millions of dollars are going to be spent in that race.”

Other candidates

Although Ron Walters Jr., may not have won the primary race, he said he thinks the experience will be helpful.

“I was able to get my name out there for future endeavors,” he said.

Walters took 14.24 percent of the vote in Kanawha County.

Robert Fluharty said he’s on the fence about running for local seats and that “Congress is where it really needs to be fixed.”’

“I would hate to run against someone’s who’s doing a good job (at the local level),” he said.

After running close in numbers with Lane, Harrison said he didn’t have quite enough time and money to get his message out throughout the 18-county, 300-mile-long district.

“We just needed a little more time and money,” he said. “I appreciate the support I received and enjoyed the campaign. I ran well where I was known.”

Jim Moss said the campaign was a “wonderful experience” and that “we’re all going to get behind (Mooney) and give him a big push toward November.”

Moss referred to Mooney as a “good man” and said “we’d (be) honored to have him serve at the Capitol.”

Despite not winning the primary nomination, Moss said he’s excited what the future holds and deems it an “honor to have been in the race.”

While awaiting results with family, Poore thanked constituents for their overwhelming support.

Following the election results, Ken Reed issued a statement, thanking his supporters.

“While tonight’s results did not go the way we had hoped, it is important we never stop fighting for the limited government principles that guided our campaign,” he said. “West Virginia is a special place, and I am truly thankful to everyone who voted for us in this effort.”

U.S. House District 3

One of the most anticipated and hotly contested races this fall will in the southernmost portion of West Virginia.

With an expected push for a power shift in Washington, Democratic incumbent Rep. Nick Rahall’s seat will be one that gets national attention. It’s been reported to be one of seven early targets listed by the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2014.

The Associated Press declared Rahall the winner of the Democratic primary, outdistancing challenger Richard Ojeda of Logan County. Unofficial results showed Rahall at 66.4 percent and Ojeda 33.6 percent.

Strong showing

One political observer said Ojeda’s under-the-radar success in the primary election is meaningful.

“This was a surprising showing by the newcomer (Ojeda) in which he got (nearly) 40 percent of the vote against a 19-term incumbent while running a very low-key campaign,” Rupp said. “That might indicate the fact that Rahall was already facing his toughest challenge since 1990.

“This suggests, when you have more than one third of the Dems in the primary voting for his opponent, it’s another obstacle the incumbent has to face.”

Rupp said Ojeda’s results could signal later success. Ojeda, of Holden, recently retired as an officer in the U.S. Army with 24 years of service. He was Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s guest at the State of the Union address last year.

Ojeda said many times after returning home to Southern West Virginia from duties in locations such as Haiti, he grew increasingly frustrated.

“I’m tired of watching everything decline around us here,” he said before elections results began coming in. “When I returned, I found that things were progressively growing worse in Southern West Virginia.”

Being a newcomer to politics would be an asset to his race, Ojeda expected.

“Rahall has not represented the people in Southern West Virginia,” Ojeda said. “That made me decide that I’m a better leader than him. I served as an officer in the U.S. Army for the past 17 years.

“Anytime that Rahall has run for re-election, it’s always been against another career politician,” Ojeda added. “That’s why I chose to throw my hat in this race. Rahall only comes around during election time to try to dupe us out of our votes. I think I can beat this guy, if the people show up that have pledged their support to me.”

Looking ahead

Rahall will go up against Sen. Evan Jenkins, R-Cabell, in November’s General Election. Jenkins ran unopposed in the Republican Primary Election.

Rupp said he expected another power struggle throughout the region.

“At some point, maybe now, it’s that question that again we have regionalism, in the General Election will be Huntington versus Raleigh County,” he said.

One of Rahall’s challenges in his own state has been distancing himself from President Obama, an unpopular Democrat in a historically democratic West Virginia.

“I am honored to receive this nomination; the lines in this campaign are now clearly drawn: it’s West Virginia working families against out-of-state billionaires and their puppet, Evan Jenkins,” Rahall said in a statement. “Billionaires from New York City will do everything they can to try and tear us down, because they know that no one stands stronger in Washington against their reckless agenda that threatens our workers, our seniors, our coal miners and our economy. But I have news for them — the voices of West Virginia working families are infinitely stronger than their shadowy money, and we welcome this fight to protect our West Virginia way of life.”

Rahall, a Raleigh County native, was first elected to Congress in 1976. He is the youngest-elected, longest-serving member in the history of the House.

Putting up a fight

Jenkins changed his party affiliation from Democrat to file for the 3rd District Congressional race in July. He was elected as a member of the House of Delegates in 1994 and in 2002, he was elected to the West Virginia Senate. His term in the state senate is up, so he has pushed all of his chips to the center of the table in this race.

“After 38 years, West Virginians are ready to send a problem-solver to Washington who will put their interests first — not the president’s or any political party’s,” Jenkins said in a release. “I look forward to debating Congressman Rahall on the many critical issues facing our state, including his votes for the ObamaCare disaster, his advancement of the War on Coal, and the questions raised about his integrity by the dishonest and hypocritical campaign he and his anti-coal billionaire allies have run to date.”

Berch said the unofficial statewide count of 66 percent of the vote for Rahall doesn’t paint a clear picture.

“Going into it, I figured if Rahall got 55, 60 percent of the vote he probably should beware,” Berch said. “If he got 75, 80 percent he’d be set. Where he ended up doesn’t tell me much about November.

“Jenkins is a well-funded challenger, very experienced in running for office. Republicans are clearly targeting that district, and it’s going to get national attention.”

Berch said from now until November, the fundraising race will determine who sits in the driver’s seat.

Legislative upsets

The statehouse results were mostly all incumbents, but a few new faces could show up for the 2015 legislative session.

Saira Blair, 17, of Berkeley County, beat out incumbent Delegate Larry Kump for the Republican bid for West Virginia House of Delegates 59th District seat.

Blair is the daughter of Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley.

Sen. Sam Cann, D-Harrison, lost the the 12th district spot he was appointed to last year to attorney Mike Romano. Romano led by 12 percent with 56 percent of the votes.

Kanawha County Delegate Doug Skaff Jr. is attempting to leave the state’s lower house with his bid for the 17th District of the Senate. He will be up against Republican candidate Tom Takubo. He led his party ticket by more than 1,800 votes.

Sen. Rocky Fitzsimmons, D-Ohio, will face Delegate Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, for the 1st District Senate seat. Ferns gained statewide attention after he changed his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican to enter in the race.

Several people took the opportunity to duke it out for his empty spot Jenkins is leaving in his run at Congress. Democrat Mike Woelfel and Republican Vicki Dunn-Marshall will compete for that seat.

McCown said although West Virginia has historically been a Democratic state, the switch for the West Virginia GOP could be real this November.

“We’ve trusted representatives in Washington to act as trustees,” she said. “We trust their judgment.”

McCown, with the University of Charleston, said the way the Kanawha County water crisis was handled throughout the winter months also could create a harsh reality for some statehouse incumbents.

“Folks aren’t happy or satisfied with the resolution,” she said. “The question for the Democrats is — will they be held accountable?”

Mandi Cardosi’s email address is mcardosi@statejournal.com. Erin Timony’s email address is etimony@statejournal.com. Staff Reporter Christine Snyder contributed to this report.

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