A New Year, A Better Future For West Virginia

The candidate filing period is over a week away, and the Republican Party in West Virginia already has a strong group of candidates seeking statewide office.

It’s now 2016 and with 312 days until the November general election, Republican office-seekers go into the new year with a strong bench.

All six of West Virginia executive branch offices are on the ballot this year. First and foremost, the race for Governor gives us one of the best candidates in decades: Senate President Bill Cole of Mercer County.

President Cole, who is also the ceremonial Lieutenant Governor of the state, is running unopposed in the May primary. His background as a businessman will give him the executive expertise needed to run the state. Plus, Cole is the architect behind the Republican takeover of the state Senate, helping recruit strong candidates and using his power as Senate President to pass reforms to the state’s legal climate, prevailing wage, and many other reforms.

In the same way he helped recruit qualified state Senate candidates, Cole also has helped put together a excellent group of executive branch candidates. He has already teamed up with Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is seeking a second term. Morrisey, swept into office during West Virginia’s first GOP wave in 2012, has been a tireless opponent of bureaucratic overreach by President Barack Obama’s federal agencies. He is currently fighting the EPA’s clean power plant rules which are putting a hurt on the state’s coal industry.

The next candidate to join Cole and Morrisey is Delegate J.B. McCuskey, an attorney in Kanawha County who is running for State Auditor. McCuskey plans to bring greater transparency to state government agencies to ensure they’re spending taxpayer dollars efficiently and wisely. He should have an easy race, since longtime Auditor Glen Gainer is resigning, thanks in part to Gainer’s failed rollout of a statewide computer system designed by the same guys behind the Obamacare website.

Banker Anne Urling won’t have it so easy. She’s challenging  Democrat Treasurer John Perdue, a fixture in state politics for more than 30 years. Perdue has used his office more as a political arm, using numerous overpaid staff members who also give back to Perdue by donating the maximum to his reelection campaigns. Perdue has also been under at least two federal investigations into various business dealings. Anne, on the other hand, has a lengthy career as a banking executive and knows how to manage finances.

Democrat Walt Helmick, the state’s Commissioner of Agriculture, will face a rematch from state Senator Kent Leonhardt. The retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel narrowly lost to Helmick, himself a former state Senator, by four points. Leonhardt has had time to show his political experience under the gold dome, combined with his agriculture experience maintaining his own farm. This is a contest that could flip the Republican’s direction easy.

Lastly, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant will be challenged by former Army officer Mac Warner. The Warner family has firm ties in the state Republican Party from Mac’s father and two of his brothers. He’s also no stranger to running for office, coming in second in the 2010 Republican primary for the 1st Congressional District. He has spent the last few years working as a contractor for the State Department, helping bring western principles to the government in Afghanistan. Voters are likely fatigued at seeing Tennant’s name on a ballot. She ran for Governor in a special election in 2010, ran for reelection in 2012, and lost a race for U.S. Senate in 2014. When not running for another office she uses her current office to push her image. Voters are done with this.

This list doesn’t begin to scratch the surface. Dozens of people are stepping up to seek seats in the House of Delegates and state Senate. It also doesn’t mean these races will be easy. Democrats are stepping up to stop the WVGOP advance. But West Virginia voters are determined to not let a third Obama term happen, either in the form of Hillary Clinton or an even more liberal Bernie Sanders.

Expect a Republican, no matter who that Republican is, to win in West Virginia and provide a positive effect down the ballot. Combine that with the quality of the GOP candidates and you’ll see a major Republican wave greater than the waves West Virginia experienced in 2012 and 2014.