By Stephen Baldwin
This week, the four leading Republican gubernatorial candidates gathered at The Greenbrier for a forum hosted by the WV Chamber of Commerce. (Full coverage of the forum is available here.)
Folks reached out to ask a number of questions about the race, so I’ll do my best to give a lay of the land.
WHO’S THE FRONTRUNNER? Delegate Moore Capito (son of our US Senator Shelly Moore Capito and grandson of former-Governor Arch Moore) leads the latest statewide polling. But his margin is small and nearly a third of voters remain undecided. Business and coal interests, both of which parallel the Chamber’s political interests, are aligning behind Capito as campaign finance reports show.
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has the most name recognition in the state, along with a very deep war chest fueled by millions in donations from MAGA groups nationwide.
Businessman Chris Miller had the best showing at the forum in my opinion. While the other candidates are polished politicians, Miller thinks and speaks differently. If he gets out on the campaign trail and meets a lot of people, I think he could do very well. He also has the largest war chest of campaign money, thanks to money he has loaned his own campaign. (Miller comes from a political family as well, with his mother being a Congresswoman, as was his grandfather.)
Secretary of State Mac Warner also has very high name recognition and grassroots support from long-standing GOP groups, but has not raised as much money or gained as much traction so far as I anticipated. He’s a formidable candidate, still, who I imagine will ramp up his campaigning soon. He also had a good showing at the forum.
WHY WEREN’T THERE ANY DEMOCRATS? Because none have officially filed to run. Huntington Mayor Steve Williams attended the event and has indicated he plans to enter the race, but he has yet to do so. In my personal opinion, there’s little to no chance for a Democrat to win any state race this election cycle. That’s just the reality, like it or not. We continue to be in a race to the far-right, with Republicans fighting to out-conservative each other to try and win primaries on the right.
WHERE DO THE CANDIDATES STAND ON THE ISSUES? While the moderator tried to get the candidates on the record on issues such as education, tourism, and population decline, the candidates largely gave non-answers which were similar in nature. All said we needed to improve education, promote tourism more, and reverse our state’s population decline. Big surprise, huh?
The real question is, “Specifically, how will you do that?” Their answers on the population decline question best illustrate their different viewpoints.
POPULATION DECLINE? Capito said we are already on the right track. Things are going well, and we need to keep investing in economic development and bringing jobs here. The problem is that most of the state has yet to see an impact from any of these economic development projects.
Miller said we’ve got a high quality of life and low cost of living already, but we need to increase that by doing things like further reducing income taxes. The legislature cut income taxes this past year, and already the budget is beginning to show major decreases over last year as a result of lower revenues.
Morrisey said we need a 100-day plan that puts us ahead of our surrounding states in terms of taxes, regulation, and workforce. Fair enough, but not very exciting or concrete.
Warner said education is the key. He sees addiction as the elephant in the room that keeps our kids from moving forward academically. This was his shining moment of the forum, as he diagnosed the problem better than the others. However, he didn’t offer a new solution.
IS THE CHAMBER A GOOD REFLECTION OF WV? The candidates were speaking directly to members of the Chamber of Commerce at a resort where rooms cost $400/night. Are they a reflection of the larger state? Not really. They are certainly power-brokers who influence policy and people, but they live a different life than most West Virginians. So whereas Morrisey may not have been as popular with this crowd, I think he is more popular with the average Republican voter than Capito, for example.
WILL OTHERS ENTER THE RACE? I don’t see any other Republicans entering the fray. In fact, you may see one drop out of the race by January 1. Steve Williams will probably enter the race as a Democrat this fall. In my opinion, our next governor was on the stage at the Chamber forum last week.
WHO WILL WIN? If the election was held today, I think Morrisey would win. Capito is gaining momentum, but I imagine that will slow as the race goes further and further to the right. Warner is a pro who will put in the work to perform well, but he probably won’t have enough money in the bank. Miller is the wild card; West Virginians seem to like wealthy businessmen with big ideas.
DOES IT MATTER? Young people I hear from say it doesn’t matter who the governor is. They believe the state is stuck and won’t make any real changes. So they vote with their feet…and leave. Or they stay and completely disengage. The day is coming when our young citizens realize they have the power and the numbers to change the course of the state’s future.
That’s the view from the back pew.
Stephen Baldwin is the former Senate Minority Leader and a Presbyterian pastor. He is also the publisher of RealWV. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.