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BACK PEW: What do the primary election results mean? 

After fifteen months of covering the primary races in West Virginia, what did we learn? West Virginia continues to turn deeper red, as expected, with a few small exceptions.

RIGHT TURN. The governor’s race was always about which of the four main candidates could best appeal to the right wing of state party voters. Patrick Morrisey came out on top. His policy positions make current Gov. Jim Justice look like the Democrat he used to be. Justice is moderate at heart and has behaved as such as governor. Expect a state that goes hard right if Morrisey becomes governor, as is very likely to occur–more social issues, more partisan fights with the federal government, more politics for show.  

VOTERS DRIVE THE BUS. But I’ve learned something covering politics that I failed to see when in politics. I always thought politicians drove the bus, so to speak. I thought the officials in charge pushed the electorate to adopt certain positions on certain issues; I’ve learned it’s the other way around. Politicians just reflect the will of the voters who speak the loudest. Because they want to win above all else. And right now, the rightwing of the Republican party in West Virginia speaks the loudest and holds the most sway. 

WHO HAD THE BEST ELECTION NIGHT? Speaking of which, who had the best election night in West Virginia? Senator Eric Tarr. No, he wasn’t on the ballot, but he amassed the most power. He’s currently the Finance Chair, who controls the purse strings of agencies and institutions across the state. But he’s aspired to be Senate President, and he will have his opportunity. Craig Blair, Senate President and Lieutenant Governor, lost a primary to his right flank (eerily reminiscent of the same thing that happened to the last Senate President, Mitch Carmichael, in 2020). Several other moderate senators–Maroney and Swope–lost their primaries. This means the Senate Republican Caucus will include even more politicians of Tarr’s persuasion as culture warriors. To top it off, he won’t have to deal with Senator Robert Karnes anymore. Although he aligned with Tarr philosophically, the two loathed each other personally and fought relentlessly. Tarr and Morrisey will have a heyday reshaping West Virginia together. 

SOME RACES SWUNG BACK TO MODERATES. In the midst of a right turn statewide, some state races saw moderates prevail. JB McCuskey defeated Mike Stuart, and Mark Hunt defeated Eric Householder and Caleb Hanna. Additionally, several counties saw moderates find success. In Greenbrier County, the moderate Republican candidates won both House races, sheriff, and county commission. That included Delegate Jeff Campbell and COmmissioner Tammy Tincher both winning reelection after switching parties together in 2020. 

SWITCHING PARTIES USUALLY WORKS. Why do politicians switch parties? Because it works. They see the political winds shifting, and they go with the flow to avoid getting voted out. Think about all the candidates on the ballot just this year who have switched parties in their careers–Trump, Justice, Campbell, Tincher, Glenn Jeffries, Mark Hunt, and more. All those candidates switched and won. A few switched and lost, including Doug Skaff, but those are the exception to the rule. Skaff spent nearly $500,000 of his own money to run a campaign for Secretary of State as a Republican after resigning from being the Democratic Minority Leader of the House of Delegates last fall. He was bitten by copperheads taking down election signs yesterday and is recovering in the hospital. We wish him a speedy recovery.

MONEY TALKS. For the most part, the old adage about money talking in politics held true. The most well-financed candidates generally won–Justice, Carol Miller, Morrisey, Glenn Elliott, McCuskey, Leonhardt. It didn’t hold in a few cases–Secretary of State (where Skaff outspent Kris Warner but had the party issue) and Assessor (where Mark Hunt relied on his accumulated name recognition from the state’s most populous county in running against candidates who had money but little statewide name recognition). The governor’s race saw more than $30 million in spending, the vast majority of which came from outside the state. Who would spend that much money to elect a governor in a different state, and why? That’s a big question we will report on in the coming months as the general election season takes shape. 

That’s the view from the back pew, where it’s our privilege to serve you. Thank you for turning to us for primary election coverage for the last fifteen months. May God bless you.

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