West Virginia 2024 primary election results: Morrisey goes for Governor, Justice eyes Washington

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West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey won the Republican primary in the governor’s race Tuesday, following a campaign waged against two main targets – the federal government and transgender children.

The Associated Press called the race for Morrisey at 10:25 p.m. on election night.

In his primary campaign, Morrisey had said he planned to continue fighting against federal environmental regulations that harmed West Virginia and its fossil fuel industries, at a time when cheaper alternatives that are less damaging to the planet’s climate are taking over the energy industry.

He also promoted his record joining federal lawsuits over immigration, transgender kids playing sports and vaccine mandates.

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Morrisey unsuccessfully defended a state law banning trans girls and women from participating on female sports teams, and he also filed a lawsuit over trans girls using girls bathrooms and locker rooms, a right the Biden administration still protects.

Former Delegate Moore Capito finished in second to Morrisey, followed by Chris Miller, Huntington businessman and son of Rep. Carol Miller, and Secretary of State Mac Warner.

Former state delegate Moore Capito claps during a State of the State address. Photo by Perry Bennett/WV Legislative Photography.

Since endorsing Capito last month, term-limited Gov. Jim Justice has traveled around the state campaigning alongside him. 

On Tuesday, Justice easily won the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate with over 60% of the vote, according to unofficial results. He beat Rep. Alex Mooney, who has represented West Virginia in Congress for the last decade.

Justice, who first ran for governor in 2016 as a Democrat, has been often seen around the state, cutting ribbons and promoting his signature programs. He’s infrequently at the state Capitol and lawmakers have often said he’s disengaged from the legislative process. Although Justice did spend time negotiating for a couple of years over how to cut state income taxes.

The governor, who owns The Greenbrier and coal companies, frequently touted himself as a businessman who could bring the state more economic growth. But his family’s business empire has for years been the target of lawsuits over not paying taxes, government safety and environmental fines, and debts to workers and other businesses. 

Gov. Jim Justice speaks during an event at Pipestem Resort State Park on Monday. Photo courtesy the Governor’s Office.

But while he repeatedly says West Virginia is enjoying record prosperity, critics have said his revenue estimates were repeatedly set unusually low. And nearly one in five West Virginians still live in poverty, including 11 counties classified as “in persistent poverty” by the U.S. Census Bureau with a poverty rate of 20% or higher continually for the past three decades.

Justice will face Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott who won the Democratic nomination over organizer Zach Shrewsbury and former Massey Energy executive Don Blankenship. Elliott was endorsed by outgoing Sen. Joe Manchin, who announced late last year that he would not seek reelection. 

Manchin is the lone Democrat to hold statewide office in West Virginia as Republicans have taken political control over the last decade.

A rightward shift in West Virginia politics

Today, registered Republicans outnumber Democrats when the opposite was true in 2016. The party holds supermajorities, which means two-thirds or more majorities, in the state Senate and House of Delegates. 

The switch followed years of the GOP’s sweeping campaign warning West Virginia of then-President Barack Obama’s “War on Coal,” with billboards plastering the state based on the president’s efforts to decrease carbon emissions. While environmental rules played a role, coal production was already on the decline because of competition from natural gas and increasingly cheaper renewable energy. 

In 2017, Justice, who’d been given Manchin’s stamp of approval running as a Democrat, flipped to a Republican as well, saying at a rally with Trump in Huntington that the Democratic Party had “walked away” from him.

Gov. Justice speaks during an event promoting his tax cut plan. Photo courtesy the Governor’s Office.

And West Virginia, once known for its prevalence of labor-friendly but otherwise conservative “West Virginia Democrats,” has increasingly shifted rightward since, with the state Legislature achieving powerful supermajorities in 2020 and growing it in 2022.

But despite GOP promises of jobs and a growing population, the workforce participation rate remains the lowest in the country and the state continues to grow older as younger people leave.

After decades of population decline, West Virginia went from three congressional districts to two during 2020 redistricting.

Rep. Carol Miller, an incumbent from Huntington, secured the Republican nomination for the state’s 1st congressional district over former state delegate Derrick Evans, according to the Associated Press. 

Evans spent three months in prison for storming the U.S. Capitol in the January 6, 2021, insurrection. Miller will face Chis Reed in the general election.

State Treasurer Riley Moore secured the Republican nomination for West Virginia’s 2nd congressional district, which covers the northern half of the state. Moore, a cousin of gubernatorial candidate Moore Capito and nephew of Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, will face Democrat Steven Wendelin in the general election.

GOP Attorney General nominee McCuskey promises to keep suing the feds

Republican voters chose State Auditor J.B. McCuskey for the party’s nomination for attorney general, a more moderate candidate compared to his opponent, former U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart. 

McCuskey said he’d follow in the footsteps of Morrisey, who successfully sued the federal government to overturn Obama-era environmental regulations on coal-fired power plants. 

“As the next attorney general, we’re going to double down on that effort so that every single coal miner and gas worker is able to be employed, that we protect our country’s power grid and we assure the economy [in] West Virginia is safe against those who don’t care about our value set or that we make money in West Virginia,” McCuskey said during a campaign event last month.

State Auditor J.B. McCuskey appears before a legislative committee. WV Legislative Photography.

A decade ago, McCuskey stood out from other Republicans when he co-sponsored a bill banning conversion therapy, the disproven theory that pastors and anti-LGBTQ mentors can turn gay kids straight. But he campaigned on more typical Republican talking points, like gun rights, crime, abortion opposition and energy and agriculture jobs.

He also touted other conservative credentials, including support for keeping Trump on the ballot and for limiting costs in the attorney general’s office by being less reliant on out-of-state co-counsel. 

As auditor, he created a website meant to increase spending transparency, advocated for a process and fund to help municipalities demolish abandoned buildings and took on recovering stolen state funds.

In the general election, he’ll face either Teresa Toriseva or Richie Robb.

Republicans set to maintain supermajorities in state Senate and House

Republicans currently hold supermajorities in the state Senate and House. After Tuesday’s primary election, they are poised to maintain strong control of both chambers in the November general election.

In the 34-member Senate where only half are up for election this year, 16 Republicans are sitting senators, seven more are running unopposed and six are competing in districts won by GOP candidates by more than 60% during the midterm election. 

All told, that’s at least 29 seats that will be or are likely to be held by Republicans after the November election.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice speaks to state lawmakers, officials and guests during his 2024 State of the State address in the House of Delegates chamber. Photo by Will Price/WV Legislative Photography.

But the leadership of the chamber will change. As of early Wednesday morning, Senate President Craig Blair was headed towards losing a primary challenge from Tom Willis, an attorney and veteran. 

He wasn’t alone. Incumbent state Senators Robert Karnes, known for his far-right stance on social issues, Mike Maroney, a member of Senate leadership, and Chandler Swope, who represents Mercer County, were headed toward primary losses.

In the Eastern Panhandle, Sen. Patricia Rucker was barely fending off a primary challenge from Paul Espinosa, a more traditional, Chamber of Commerce-backed Republican. 

Rucker, who was running for a third term, made a name for herself in the Legislature for her outspoken opposition to abortion and championing school choice options like the Hope Scholarship, which supports students who go to private school or homeschool.  

She will face Democrat John Doyle, who spent decades in the Legislature. 

Sen. Patricia Rucker is seeking another term representing the Eastern Panhandle. Photo by Will Price, WV Legislative Photography

Chris Rose, a fourth generation coal miner originally from McDowell County, beat state Senate Health Chair Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, in the primary. 

A self-described “MAGA conservative,” Rose had to move to eventually find work as a power plant electrician. In campaign material, he described himself as a blue-collar conservative who’d volunteer for President Trump, was a field director for the Tea Party and lifetime member of the NRA, who blamed governmental overreach and the “War on Coal” for the decline of the coal industry.

In a video, he called Maroney a “phony conservative” who doesn’t represent Christian West Virginia values and who is seen sleeping or missing votes at the Capitol.

In the Legislature, Maroney had distinguished himself by supporting existing vaccine laws, warning of the widespread disease and death caused by diseases like polio and rubella.

In the 100-member House of Delegates where elections are held every two years, 40 Republicans will run unopposed and 32 are running in districts where the GOP candidate won more than 60% of the vote in 2022.

Other statewide GOP nominees tout experience, Trump connections

Kris Warner, former chair of the state GOP, garnered the Republican nomination for Secretary of State, defeating former delegate Doug Skaff Jr., Putnam County Clerk Brian Wood and former delegate Ken Reed. He will face Democrat Thornton Cooper in the general election.

Warner, brother of current Secretary of State Mac Warner, had touted his position as Trump’s appointee as the state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development office and applauded his brother’s work cleaning up thousands of voter records in an effort to reduce the opportunity for election fraud. Warner had publicized his efforts to remove inactive and ineligible voters.

Sen. Mark Hunt listens to Gov. Justice’s State of the State speech. Photo by Perry Bennett/WV Legislative Photography.

Sen. Mark Hunt won the Republican nomination for Auditor, defeating Del. Eric Householder, former Del. Caleb Hanna and former Jefferson County Commissioner Tricia Jackson. He will face Mary Ann Claytor in the general election.

Hunt, a former lawmaker and former Democrat, has said his master’s degree in public administration will benefit him because he said the auditor is primarily responsible for administering the office versus actual auditing.

Incumbent Kent Leonhardt garnered the Republican nomination for Commissioner of Agriculture, defeating former delegate Joshua Higginbotham and Cabell County farmer Roy Ramey. He will face Democrat Deborah Stiles in the general election. 

A Marine veteran, Leonhardt’s initiatives have included Farm to Table events, encouraging veterans to work in agriculture and promoting hemp business in West Virginia.

Larry Pack, a former longtime delegate and acting secretary of revenue, is running unopposed for state treasurer. 

Nonpartisan races for judges and county board of education were also decided on Tuesday. Justice Haley Bunn and longtime state Senator Charles Trump won seats on the state Supreme Court in uncontested races.

As of early Wednesday morning, S. Ryan White, a Kanawha County attorney and former Kanawha Board of Education member had a wide lead for the open seat on West Virginia’s Intermediate Court of Appeals. He is running against Wheeling-based attorney and former chair of the state GOP Elgine McArdle and civil defense attorney Mychal Shulz.

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