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Governor’s Race Heats Up Nearly a Year Out

By Staff | Jul 31, 2019

While primary ballots won’t be cast in West Virginia until May of 2020, the fight for the chance to lead the state is already attracting more attention than any other race on the ballot.

Incumbent Governor Jim Justice is eligible to seek a second term and has announced his intention to do so. Justice was elected in 2016 as a Democrat but switched parties in April of 2017. He defeated Democrats Booth Goodwin and Jeff Kessler in the primary and Republican Bill Cole in the general.

While Justice has announced for the Republican nod to keep his office, he isn’t alone. Former WV Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher, former WV Delegate Mike Folk, veteran Rebecca Henderson, and Shelby Fitzhugh are all seeking the Republican nomination. Thrasher, too, is a former Democrat. Folk was defeated in 2018 in a bid for the WV Senate.

Three Democrats have so far launched campaigns, with former non-profit executive Stephen Smith attracting the most support. Jody Murphy and Ed Vanover are also announced Democratic candidates.

The shadow looming large over the race though, is US Senator Joe Manchin, who previously served as governor. Manchin has openly discussed jumping into the race.

Fundraising, which is often seen as a barometer of viability for elective office has placed Smith firmly at the head of the pack for the Democrats. Since entering the race he has raised approximately $300,000 and has loaned his campaign $1,000. Murphy has raised $115 since announcing.

Justice and Thrasher have both cut large checks to their campaigns. Justice has raised $57,650, from one fundraising event in Charleston. He has also loaned his campaign $131,500. Thrasher has received contributions totally $36,385 and has loans to his campaign in the amount of $373,774.10. Mike Folk has loaned himself $1,100 and has raised approximately $35,000 since announcing.

No public polling has been conducted for the race.

The last governor to lose re-election in West Virginia was Republican Cecil Underwood in 2000. He had been elected in 1996, after having served previously from 1957-1961.

H. S. Leigh Koonce is a sixth-generation West Virginian. He writes from Jefferson County.