The Dome Report - West Virginia Turns a Brighter Shade of Red

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While yesterday’s federal election results from West Virginia were not a surprise, the down ballot races, especially for the State Legislature, clearly demonstrated what was a strong red wave that engulfed incumbents, swept away open seats, and cemented what may be durable majorities in both chambers for years to come.
 
As around the country, early voting enthusiasm also gripped West Virginia. Indeed, according to the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office, a total of 389,248 people participated in the early voting process; 253,243 West Virginians voted early while 136,005 people submitted absentee ballots. This momentum was sustained through Election Day, which yielded a final combined turn out that eclipsed the 60 percent mark.
 
Not surprisingly, President Trump carried West Virginia again with 69 percent to Biden’s 30 percent. This is a slight increase from his 2016 total of approximately 68 percent to Clinton’s 26 percent. On the Congressional level, all of the incumbents are returning. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R) easily outpaced her opponent, taking 70 percent; Congressman David McKinley (R) won with 69 percent; Congressman Alex Mooney (R) returned with 63 percent; and Congresswoman Carol Miller (R) finished with 71 percent.
 
In races for constitutional officers, all of the incumbents easily handled their challengers. Governor Jim Justice (R) prevailed over Kanawha County Commissioner and trial lawyer, Ben Salango (D), garnering 69 percent of the vote to win a second term, though this time as a Republican, having won his first term as a Democrat. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R), who lost his bid to unseat U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D) in 2018, won election to a third term, defeating Sam Petsonk, a consumer rights/labor and employment attorney who made criticism of Morrisey’s connections to the opioid distributors and his legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act the center piece of his campaign. Morrisey took 64 percent of the vote.
 
The Secretary of State’s race was a rematch, pitting incumbent Mac Warner (R) against former two-term Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. Warner, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and former JAG Corps officer for 23 years, defeated Natalie Tennant (D), a former journalist, in a bitterly contested and often personal campaign, with 58 percent of the vote.
 
In another rematch, State Auditor J.B. McCuskey (R) returned to office with 67 percent, defeating Mary Ann Claytor, a former employee of that office.
 
In perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening, State Treasurer John Perdue (D) lost re-election to the office he has held since 1997, being easily defeated by challenger Riley Moore (R). Moore, a former one-term member of the state House of Delegates and a grandson to former Governor Arch Moore and nephew to U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, took in 56 percent of the vote. With Perdue's loss, all of the constitutional offices in West Virginia are held by Republicans. 
 
Turning to the Legislature, all 100 House seats and 17 of the 34 Senate seats were up for election yesterday. Republicans—who won majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly in 2014 and increased their majorities in 2016—have now taken a dominating control of both chambers. Going into the general election, Republicans controlled the Senate 20-14 and the House 59-41. However, with Republicans winning five of the six open seats in the Senate yesterday, they increased their majority to 23-11. Even still, the most notable change in leadership in the Senate actually occurred in the primary with the defeat of Senate President Mitch Carmichael. Now, with Senator Carmichael’s departure, the entire Senate leadership is in play and will have to be set in a party caucus prior to the start of the 2021 legislative session. In the House of Delegates, 10 incumbent Democrats lost, leading to the creation of a 76-24 majority for the Republicans. The present Speaker, Roger Hanshaw, an attorney with a Ph.D. in Chemistry, is expected to retain his position. 
 
The dominant majorities in both chambers mean that the Republicans are now easily within striking distance of attaining the necessary super-majority of 4/5 of the members present to suspend the rules of procedure when passing legislation.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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