Ashton Marra Published

2016 Governor Race Already Taking Shape


Six months after mid-term elections, the race for West Virginia’s next governor is already underway with two major announcements this week from Republican leaders.

On Monday, Republican Congressman David McKinley announced on a conference call with reporters he was setting aside personal aspirations to run for re-election to the House of Representative. His announcement was followed quickly Tuesday by a press conference where Senate President Bill Cole confirmed he would run for the office.

“I will be a candidate for governor of the great state of West Virginia,” Cole said during the short speech at his Nissan dealership near Bluefield. He followed the announcement with a second press conference in Charleston where he was surrounded by Republican members of both the House and Senate.

Appointed to the House of Delegates for one year, Cole was first elected to the Senate in 2012 and became the chamber’s leader after Republicans took control of both houses in 2014.

Cole touted himself as having the right balance of business and legislative experience to take on the new role, even though he’s only won a single election.

“I hope that the people of West Virginia would look at that as a positive because career politicians haven’t gotten the job done in West Virginia,” he said.

Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey released a statement Monday evening saying he is still “seriously considering” a run. Morrisey is the final major Republican considering a run.

On the Democratic side, it’s been nearly a month since coal company and Greenbrier Resort owner Jim Justice announced his bid for the office. The former Republican changed parties before registering for the race.

“I am much more suited to be a Democrat,” he said after his announcement in White Sulphur Springs, “because I truly want to be the person that is trying to take up for the little guy.”

While Cole may face criticism for lack of experience, Justice has even less, never holding a political office.

On the opposite side of the Democratic coin, though, stands a candidate touting 18 years of experience, Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler.

Tuesday Kessler said funding is his top priority- funding for infrastructure, funding for workforce development through education and funding for addiction treatment; the same three priorities Cole set out for himself during his campaign announcement. So what sets Kessler apart?

“I’m willing to raise some revenues to get it done,” he said.

Kessler attempted to raise the tobacco tax multiple times during the 2015 legislative session, but before he faces his Senate colleague, Kessler will have to beat out billionaire Justice in a primary that could get very, very expensive.

“I can’t worry about what other people are doing,” Kessler said of the possible cost of the race.

“I’m just going to tell folks the truth and raise enough revenue to fund a campaign adequately. I’m not going to be able to compete with a billion dollars and I don’t expect anyone will be putting that kind of money into the race.”

The only other possible major Democratic candidate left to announce, U.S. Prosecuting Attorney Booth Goodwin. Goodwin isn’t likely to make a decision until after the trial of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship which is scheduled for July.