John Raby Published

GOP Maintains Firm Grip On Legislature In W.Va. Primaries

West Virginia voters did nothing to dramatically alter the makeup of the state legislature on Tuesday in primary election contests that seemed certain to leave Republican supermajorities in both chambers intact.

Some West Virginia incumbent Republican state senators won their respective primaries Tuesday night. Wood County Republican Sen. Mike Azinger earned a close win in his primary over Delegate John Kelly, Majority Leader Tom Takubo of Kanawha County easily defeated a GOP challenger while incumbent Mark Maynard of Wayne County won his three-way GOP primary.

Former Democratic Sen. Mike Oliverio of Monongalia County, now a Republican, and Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer will meet in the fall for a 13th District Senate seat after each defeated primary challengers.

Other Senate races remained undecided, including former U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart in the 7th District GOP primary against Chad McCormick of Yawkey; Raleigh County Republican Rollan Roberts against Delegate Mick Bates; and Owens Brown, the first Black man in the Senate, against former Delegate Randy Schwartzmiller in a Northern Panhandle district.

Another race with a narrow vote margin unfolded in a district spanning five counties and involved former Democratic Delegate Mark Hunt, ex-GOP Delegate Joshua Higginbotham and Mark Mitchem. A fourth GOP candidate, Andrea Garrett Kiessling, was disqualified from running after a successful challenge to her residency. The winner will go on to November to face Democrat Richard Lindsay, who ran unopposed Tuesday.

Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin was unopposed in his Democratic primary and will meet another church pastor, Republican Vince Deeds, in November. Deeds defeated two others in his GOP primary in a five-county district in southern West Virginia.

Republicans outnumber Democrats 78-22 in the House, 23-11 in the state Senate and are looking to add to their supermajority this fall. There were no Democratic candidates in six of the 17 state Senate primaries and 27 of the 100 House of Delegates races. Overall, Democrats had contested races in just two Senate primaries and 16 House primaries.

Four senators, including three Democrats, did not seek reelection and eight others were unopposed in the primary. More than half of the House ran unopposed while 15 incumbents, including 10 Republicans, did not seek reelection.

All House of Delegates candidates ran in single-member districts because of a 2018 restructuring. Previously, some districts had multiple delegates. Because of redistricting, some incumbent lawmakers faced off in the primary in their new districts.

In a Democratic primary involving two incumbents, Delegates Ric Griffith and Chad Lovejoy were locked in a tight race in their Huntington-area district, as was Roane County incumbent Riley Keaton against Republican challenger Martin Atkinson.

Dr. Sydnee Smirl McElroy, who is a family physician and renowned podcaster, defeated Marshall University freshman Kate White in their Democratic primary in a district that includes parts of the Huntington area. McElroy will take on another doctor, Matthew Rohrbach, in November. Rohrach was unopposed in his GOP primary.

In another close race, Wood County Republican incumbent Roger Conley was battling challenger Bob Fehrenbacher. Fehrenbacher admitted he was not a registered Republican when he filed his candidacy papers, calling it a simple oversight. He changed his registration to the GOP after the mistake was pointed out and ignored calls from the state Republican Party to discontinue his campaign.

Two incumbent delegates with primary opposition, Democrat Kayla Young and Republican Larry Pack, also were in races too close to call.