Isaac Sponaugle conceded the Democratic primary for West Virginia attorney general to labor lawyer Sam Petsonk on Tuesday, capping a close race decided by fewer than 200 votes weeks after election day.
Sponaugle, who represents Pendleton County in the West Virginia House of Delegates, had considered calling for a recount though he eventually declined, saying it would be too costly.
“It was the finances that ultimately decided it,” he said, noting a state law that would have required him to pay an up to $300 bond in each county for a recount. He said he will support Petsonk in the general elections.
Petsonk declared victory last week as the final counties turned in results showing he pulled ahead by a 145-vote margin. He is now set to face incumbent Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey in the November elections.
“This primary was so hotly contested because the public cares greatly about putting someone new into the attorney general’s office — someone with the skills and the values to protect our people in this perilous period,” said Petsonk.
He added, “I want to thank Delegate Sponaugle for staying true to our values as Democrats by running a respectful and honest race.”
Morrisey ran unopposed in the GOP primary as he seeks his third term as attorney general. In 2018, Morrisey narrowly lost a U.S. Senate race against U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin by around 3% after President Donald Trump rallied behind the attorney general.
Morrisey has overseen several lawsuits against opioid makers that have led to multimillion dollar settlements for the state, including a $37 million deal with the massive drug distributor McKesson. Throughout the campaign, both Petsonk and Sponaugle have heavily criticized Morrisey for his opposition to the Affordable Care Act, warning that the loss of the program would be devastating to West Virginians.
As a lawyer, Petsonk has focused on workplace safety, retirement benefits for coal miners and other labor issues. He formerly worked for the late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd as a legislative assistant.
“My career has been about delivering solutions to strengthen our communities and to ensure we receive the wages and benefits that we’ve earned here in West Virginia. Standing up for your family and mine. For our towns. For our neighbors,” he said.
Belinda Biafore, chairwoman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, issued a statement that congratulated Petsonk and looked forward to the fall.
“I am beyond proud of both Delegate Isaac Sponaugle and Sam Petsonk for running respectful races that both focused on one thing and that’s giving the people of West Virginia an attorney general with integrity that will serve the people, not themselves,” she said.
State election officials have until July 9 to officially certify the results of the election.