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W.Va. Political Analysts Size Up Next Week’s Midterms


What do some of West Virginia’s political experts see as deciding factors in next week’s midterms?

Marybeth Beller has more than two decades with Marshall University’s School of Political Science.

Beller notes that two Senate and 22 House of Delegates seats are uncontested by Democrats. She said even though the state democratic party is reorganizing under new leadership, the disparity is disconcerting.

“It’s bad for democracy, not to have any opposition whatsoever, suggesting to the incumbent that he or she is very safe,” Beller said. “I think looking at it from a theoretical perspective, it’s always good for us to have challenges. Unchecked power is not healthy in our democracy.”

John Kilwein is the chair of the political science department at West Virginia University.

Kilwein said it would be a complete earthquake if anything changed in terms of the grip that the Republicans have on the state legislature. He said there’s despondency in the Democratic Party right now.

“If you go to their websites, it was clear to me that the Republicans just have it together right now,” Kilwein said. “Most every Republican link worked. Whereas democratic links, in some counties, they didn’t have somebody, you couldn’t contact somebody.”

Both agreed that nationally, the thought that a change in abortion rights would drive more women to the polls has been tempered.

Beller said a previous state abortion amendment that narrowly passed may set a women’s voting preference for this midterm election. In 2018, an amendment passed 52 percent to 48 percent, noting that nothing in the constitution secured or protected a right to abortion or funding for abortion. The amendment negated a 1993 Supreme Court decision that said low-income women had a right to an abortion with medicaid funding.

“There are a lot of angry women out there and maybe angry men,” Beller said. “The policy that the legislature has passed on abortion makes it so restrictive that it’s going to be very difficult for a woman to have access to that kind of health care. I think we could still see that being a big issue.”

Kilwein said with the expected dominance of incumbent Republican U.S. Representatives Carol Miller and Alex Mooney, the change in state abortion law won’t have much of an impact.

“Is it going to be that much of a factor that abortion would help Wendell to beat Mooney?” Kilwein said. “I just don’t think it’s going to be asking too much.”

Beller said 12 independent legislative candidates on the ballot is a high number for this midterm. She said those candidates could siphon votes from the Republican or Democrat, depending on campaign activity.

She said several races could be closely contested.

“In House District 26 you might want to look into incumbent Dr. Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell, being challenged by Sydnee Smirl McElroy,” Beller said. ”McElroy is the granddaughter of Jody Smirl, who was in the House for many years and is beloved throughout the state. She could be a real challenge to Dr. Rohrbach.”

Beller pointed out two other races of interest.

“In House District 73. Majority Leader Amy Summers. R-Taylor, is the incumbent but she’s running against Mike Manypenny, who served in the House for many years and is well known to West Virginians. That could be a race that would be of interest,” Beller said.

“A big race to look out for though is in Senate District 13, is going to be something to watch,” she said. “Del. Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongahelia, has been in the House for many years and is very well respected. She’s now running for that Senate seat. She’s running against Mike Olivererio, who has also served in the legislature for many years. Most recently he lost a bid for a congressional seat.”

Kilwein said he would be shocked if the state republican supermajority didn’t stay the same or get higher.

“You don’t want to get into the habit of predicting that this is going to be this way forever,” Kilwein said. “It sure feels like there’s a pretty significant control of the legislature by the Republicans for the foreseeable future.”

Both agreed the statewide Amendments on the ballot, especially two and four, will drive voters to the polls.