By Ron Gregory
CHARLESTON — With West Virginia Republicans trumpeting their first real shot at power in the state Legislature in more than 80 years, both Democrats and Republicans went to the polls in the Mountain State Tuesday.
The result was a few landslide victories but some races were still hanging in the balance as counties prepare to begin canvassing results Monday.
Among the functions of a vote canvass is to examine what are currently called “provisional ballots.” These were formerly called “challenged ballots.” It indicates poll workers had some reason to question the validity of the ballot in question. A county commission, sitting as a board of canvassers, checks all returns to make sure the law has been followed and also rules on counting these provisional ballots. Often, provisional ballots are cast by poll workers themselves who are working outside their own precinct. The ballots are traditionally counted when the board of canvassers meets.
It was really no contest on either side in the race to succeed retiring Democrat U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller. Current Secretary of State Natalie Tennant won 101,650 votes statewide, or 78 percent. Her closest opponent, Dennis Melton, got 15,178 votes, or 12 percent.
Percentage-wise Republican U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito did even better on her side, capturing 87 percent of the vote, with 72,344 ballots. Her closest challenger, Matthew Dodrill, got 6,882 or eight percent.
Democrat State Auditor Glen B. Gainer was unopposed for his party’s 1st Congressional District nomination. Incumbent Republican David McKinley was also without challenge. They will meet in November.
In the 3rd District, which includes most of the Southern West Virginia coalfields, what is predicted to be one of the most negative campaigns in the nation was set up Tuesday. Incumbent Democrat Congressman Nick Rahall offset the challenge by Richard Ojeda II, 66 to 34 percent. Rahall, who is being identified by Republicans for being too close to unpopular Democrat President Barack Obama, will face Democrat-turned-Republican state Sen. Evan Jenkins in November. Jenkins was unopposed in the primary and has the strong backing of tea party and conservative groups.
Charleston lawyer Nick Casey defeated his challenger, state House Del. Meshea Poore by a 60-40 margin. Casey, who has raised considerable money to try to take the 2nd District House seat from the Republicans, spent little in the primary. The district is currently represented by Capito, who is leaving to seek the U.s. Senate seat.
Seven Republicans sought the nod to replace Capito, the daughter of popular former Gov. Arch A. Moore Jr. In the end, Alex Mooney, a former Maryland state GOP chair and tea party favorite, collected 36 percent of the vote to win. Ken Reed was second, at 23 percent; Charlotte Lane, third at 18 percent; Steve Harrison, fourth with 11 percent; Ron Walters Jr., fifth with six percent; Jim Moss, sixth at five percent; and Robert Lawrence Fluharty, last with two percent of the vote.
While many state legislative seats offered no primary contests, at least two in the Southern coalfield region ended up with tight finishes.
One that was not close was Mingo County’s District 20, where incumbent Democrat Justin J. Marcum smoked challenger Michael Baisden, 70 to 30 percent. Marcum will now face Republican Russell Lee Deskins, who has remained typically silent during the 2014 campaign.
Republican Mark Dean drew the short straw but the biggest vote for the right to challenge Democrat House Majority Leader Harry Keith White. White was unopposed on the Democrat side. Dean defeated Roger Stacy, 162 to 96 for the opportunity to challenge the powerful White.
District 22 features one of the closest finishes of the night.
Incumbent Jeff Eldridge was an easy winner for the top Democrat nomination. The district includes most of Lincoln County and small portions of Putnam, Logan and Boone.
The battle now is between Tomblin-appointed Del. Josh Barker and challenger Gary McCallister for second. When all precincts reported, the unofficial tally was 1,247 for Barker and 1,244 for McCallister. Two are nominated. That means Monday’s canvassing will be all-important in this district, where provisional ballots could tip the scales in either direction. Republicans Michel Moffatt and Justin Mullins were unopposed.
Reports from Lincoln County were that as many as 50 provisional ballots might be considered in Hamlin. That extraordinarily high number could possibly lead to a change in the Democrat outcome.
District 24, which includes most of Logan County, was also a nail-biter. Former Del. Ralph Rodighiero led the Democrat ticket where two are elected. On election night, the incumbent Democrats, Ted Tomblin and Rupie Phillips, ended up in a dead heat. But Logan County “found” an additional precinct Wednesday morning, tallied it and Phillips is now up, 2,113 to 2,059 in unofficial numbers. There, too, canvasses could alter the results, although it is not as likely as in the 22nd. Republican Gloria Meadows was the lone GOP candidate.
Democrat Del. Clif Moore, charged with multiple driving violations including drunk driving, won his primary in District 26, defeating challenger Pat McKinney, 55 to 45 percent. Moore will face unchallenged Tom Acosta of the GOP this fall.