10 Takeaways from the W.Va. Primary Election

May 10, 2016

Beth Walker, new state Supreme Court justice
Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Now the election is over, some races we thought would be close…weren’t. Others not on our radar screen at all became barn burners.

What were the 10 most important lessons from this primary election?

1. Money beats name recognition in the W.Va. Supreme Court race

Before the election, Republicans feared arch-enemy Darrell McGraw would slip into the Supreme Court among a divided field. McGraw is well known from his long tenure as state Attorney General.

Instead, the GOP establishment’s preferred candidate, Beth Walker, walked away with an easy win.

Several GOP groups spent big to either support her or oppose McGraw and fellow Democrat Bill Wooton. Her commercials spoke about fighting drug abuse, while the attack ads branded McGraw and Wooton as Obama supporters.

In the end, it wasn’t even close.

Jim Justice (center) put away his two opponents
Credit Daniel Shreve / The Media Center

2. Money beats name recognition, part two – the billionaire wins

West Virginia’s only billionaire is now the Democratic candidate for governor.

Businessman Jim Justice garnered more votes than his two opponents combined. This despite the fact that one is a former Senate President (Kessler) and the other a former U.S. Attorney (Goodwin.)

Justice faces Senate President Bill Cole in the general election. Expect Justice to take heat for unpaid business taxes, and Cole to have to defend his record in the Legislature.

3. Sanders was a lot more popular than Clinton

His 51-36 win was bigger than expected. It continued to show her weakness among working-class whites, at a time when she wants to pivot to the general election.

The Clintons (Bill and Hillary) were met with angry protests in southern West Virginia, while huge crowds showed up for Sanders events.

Trump at a Charleston rally
Credit Steve Helber / AP Photo

4. Trump is the most popular of all!

True, the other GOP candidates have suspended their campaigns, Still, he received about 3 out of 4 GOP primary votes. If there is a #NeverTrump vote in West Virginia, it is very tiny.

Meanwhile, exit polls show Trump winning one-third of all DEMOCRATIC voters against either Sanders or Clinton, with another 20 percent undecided.

5. There’s a fierce fight to unseat Rep. Alex Mooney

In 2014, Alex Mooney overcame the carpetbagger label to win the 2nd Congressional seat, but by only 3 points.

Five Democrats were vying to take Mooney on in the fall, and two of them were very close all evening -  former state Delegate Mark Hunt and lawyer and veteran Cory Simpson. Hunt squeaked out a victory.

Carmichael gives an emotional speech on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act
Credit Martin Valent / West Virginia Public Broadcastinglative Photography

6. Republican leaders beat back pro-union Republicans challengers

Both House Speaker Tim Armstead and Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael faced primary opponents backed by unions – and both won by substantial margin.

7. Maybe the Family Policy Council is not as powerful as it thought

Carmichael also was attacked by the Family Policy Council, which targeted him because he failed to support its preferred version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Carmichael’s emotional speech is credited with helping to kill the bill in the Senate.

Richard Ojeda, after being beaten
Credit Richard Ojeda / via Facebook

8. After being beaten, Ojeda wins in upset

After being brutally attacked on Sunday night, military veteran and state Senate candidate Richard Ojeda became thrust into the national spotlight.

It’s unclear whether the attack was politically motivated. Incumbent Sen. Art Kirkendoll - Ojeda’s opponent - said he does not condone violence.

But Ojeda won the race.

9. Maybe West Virginians aren’t so apathetic after all

Voter turnout, or the lack thereof, has been the biggest election story in West Virginia in recent years. In the 2014 general election, the state had the lowest voter turnout in the nation at 37.3 percent.

Unofficial voter turnout was 40 percent in this primary, with 487,550 ballots cast. Voter turnout in the 2012 primary election was 27 percent, and was 36 percent in the 2008 primary election, according to W.Va. Secretary of State Natalie Tennant.

10. Republicans are finally catching up to Democrats in primary votes

Almost as many people cast GOP ballots as Democratic ones – which is an ongoing trend. This despite Donald Trump’s advice to supporters at a rally in Charleston: “Stay at home,” he told the crowd, “and get twice as many people to vote in November.”