EDITORIAL: Hometown Heroes Could Fare Well in Governor's Race

HNN Staff
State Senator Clark Barnes
State Senator Clark Barnes

The race for the job Joe Manchin left behind is becoming an object of great curiosity for political observers on both sides of the partisan aisle this year. While most West Virginians are not expected to vote in this year's Special Election for Governor, the 10-15% who are have become the talk of the political chattering class for several weeks now. For whom will the majority of this subset of the voting population support--and why?

This Special Election is different, and in a way, it is a throwback to another era, when "Favorite Son" candidates were more typical.  Because of the compressed time frame for this year's election, relationships at the grassroots mean more than huge campaign spending.  Moreover, the Governor's office is the only one up for grabs on the ballot.  This is key, because it means that all those other undecided voters who would come out for other county offices on the ballot in a general election year...won't be there.  The very voters whom the well-financed candidate could get good voting support from will not be present in large numbers this year.

So who will be coming out to vote?  Only two main groups of people:

  • Total diehard voters, doing their civic duty.  These are the folks who really keep up with politics in West Virginia;
  • Voters who already have a pre-existing and strong bond with one of the candidates.

As we survey the Republican field of candidates, for example, who are the candidates who are going into this race with significant bonds with West Virginians?  Don't say Bill Maloney--he has no bonds whatsoever with any Republican voter, other than a few friends in Morgantown.  His money will be unable to buy enough friends by May 14th.  The fact that Maloney has never been involved in the State Republican Party doesn't help him in this race, either.

How about Betty Ireland, the former Secretary of State?  Doesn't she have some serious bonds with the West Virginia voters?  After all, she was Secretary of State for four years.  True, but because she didn't run for re-election in 2008, the last time everyone really saw her out campaigning before this year was seven years ago in 2004.  That's a very long time in state politics.  Few West Virginians really had need of the services of the Secretary of State's office, so Ireland will have to be reminding a lot of people very quickly who she is in order to win this race on May 14th.

No, the surprise candidates who start off with a real head start in the voting department are State Senator Clark Barnes (R-Randolph), Prosecuting Attorney Mark Sorsaia (R-Putnam), Delegate Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson), and to a lesser degree, former Delegate Larry Faircloth (R-Berkeley). With the exception of Faircloth, each of these candidates currently serve their constituents and have had great success in getting re-elected.  That's a real bond with the voters in their areas.

Sorsaia has more friends in Putnam than most others, since he's been on the ballot there several times and won re-election as Prosecutor. Carmichael has won several times in his small House District in Jackson County.  But Barnes has won twice handily in a nine-county district, giving him the most bonds with voters in the most counties at the start of the contest.

If Senator Barnes can reach out and do well in just a few more counties, he will nail down the nomination, even if he spends only half the money that Bill Maloney has vowed to spend in his attempt to play catch-up with all the others.  Each candidate running in the GOP primary this year has a chance to win, but in the final analysis, such a low turnout means that only the most dedicated supporters will turn out on May 14th.

And that requires significant bonds between the winning candidate and their present and future constituents.




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