Gregory’s Web for April 29, 2017
by Ron Gregory
West Virginia Democrats remain eternally optimistic that they can wrestle control of the state senate from Republicans in 2018. I suspect that is because the sheer number of delegates required to regain Democrat control of the house is far greater.
In the senate, it “only” takes five Democrat wins in current GOP districts to at least tie the membership at 17. But the odds of even picking up five seats are low.
The Northern Panhandle’s First District would have to see a switch from incumbent Ryan Ferns. The Republican defeated Democrat Rocky Fitzsimmons by less than 1,000 votes in 2014, so anything is possible here. District Two sets up a real shot at a Democrat pick-up. There, current Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt only defeated Larry Edgell by 600 votes. It remains to be seen if appointed Sen. Charles Clements or some other Republican can hold this seat.
David Nohe won the 2014 contest in District Three but left in 2015 when then-Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin appointed him to the parole board. Appointee Mike Azinger will likely try to hold the seat for the GOP. Nohe won there three years ago by a three-to-one margin. A Democrat gain is not likely. Putnam County Republican Senator Mike Hall was unopposed in District Four in 2014. He has not said if he will seek re-election but would be a prohibitive favorite in this conservative district.
Huntington’s Mike Woelfel, a Democrat, won a highly-competitive Fifth District race in 2014. The minority party will be fortunate to hold on. In a huge upset, Republican novice Mark Maynard defeated long-serving Democrat H. Truman Chafin in District Six. Less than 400 votes separated the contestants. This is a possible gain for Dems, especially if Chafin tries to reclaim his seat. Democrat physician Ron Stollings would be heavily favored in the Seventh, assuming he defeats any primary opposition. Along those lines, Democrat Delegates Justin Marcum and Jeff Eldridge are said to be interested in the seat, which is heavily Democratic.
Republican Ed Gaunch, a low-key Republican, defeated incumbent Democrat Erik Wells for the Eighth District spot in 2014. Gaunch is thought to be vulnerable, in part due to his inability to capture headlines. District Nine has Republican Jeff Mullins who beat incumbent Dem Mike Green. It was a one-sided win for Mullins, who is thought to remain popular in the coalfields of Raleigh, McDowell and Wyoming counties.
Democrat Ron Miller held on to a seat in District Ten three years ago by a sizeable margin. The D’s would be favored to keep it that way. Republican Robert Karnes had little trouble dispatching Democrat incumbent Greg Tucker in District 11. The district should remain in GOP hands next year.
Democrat Mike Romano fought off an aggressive challenge from Republican Mike Queen in District 12. Democrats will be favored in this central district. Democrat Bob Beach won over Republican Kris Warner in District 13 by about 1,500 votes. He would be favored to hold on, if he seeks re-election.
In District 14, Republican Dave Sypolt defeated Democrat Stan Shaver by a nearly two-to-one margin. The Republicans will be favored here again. Likewise, the GOP’s Charles Trump almost doubled the vote on Donald Cookman, a Democrat. The Fifteenth is solidly Republican.
The race between Democrat John Unger and Republican Larry Faircloth was fairly tight in District 16, so it could be a GOP pick-up. Democrats have some chance at regaining District 17, where Republican Dr. Tom Takubo defeated a politically-wounded Democrat, Doug Skaff, three years ago.
Thus, Democrats have a realistic chance at picking up four seats — in Districts Two, Five, Eight and 13. Possible gains could be made in One, Three, Six, 11, 16 and 17. Everything has to go right for control of the upper body to return to Democrat hands.
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Mingo Circuit Clerk Lonnie Hannah said he’d never heard the rumor that Mingo Sheriff James Smith would soon step down and Hannah, an ex-sheriff, would replace him. “I’m staying right here,” he said.
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Statehouse gossip included a prediction that former State Sen. Lloyd Jackson II will run for Lincoln County Commission next year. That comes after constant rumors that Assistant State Treasurer Josh Stowers would campaign for the position.
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Your comments, irresistible gossip and column ideas are always welcome.