The 2024 WV Primary: Musical Chairs Anyone?

I’m writing this as the primary election results are still sinking in. At the statewide office level, it felt like a massive game of musical chairs among historic WV political dynasties. The only incumbent to run for the office he currently holds was Kent Leonhart, our Agriculture Commissioner, who fended off two primary challengers. Everyone else abandoned their chair to try for someone else’s — Secretary of State Mac Warner ran for governor, and his brother has now won the Republican nomination to be the state’s new chief election officer. US Senator Shelley Moore Capito’s son, Moore Capito, battled it out with Warner, Chris Miller (son of Congresswoman Carol Miller), and our current Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to be the GOP nominee for governor. Morrisey came out on top of the heap with a whopping 33% of the vote. So, 67% of Republican voters chose some candidate other than Morrisey. What a mandate! 

On the Democratic side, Steve Williams, the longtime mayor of Huntington, was the only candidate on their ballot for governor. Williams has a good reputation for turning his city around (, helping it win national awards and recognition for its effective response to the opioid crisis. Huntington also won the top prize in the America’s Best Communities competition. It’ll be an interesting general election for governor, for sure.

JB McCuskey abandoned his position as WV Auditor to successfully run for the Republican nomination for Attorney General —  the seat Morrisey left for the governor’s race. See what I mean about musical chairs? McCuskey defeated State Senator Mike Stuart, one of several state legislators seeking higher office. State Senator Mark Hunt won the republican nomination for McCuskey’s current office, beating out current House Majority Leader Eric Householder, former Delegate Caleb Hanna, and Tricia Jackson, who was recently removed from her position on the Jefferson County Commission for skipping meetings and preventing the Commission from conducting business. Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Trump won a seat on the WV Supreme Court of Appeals. His victory will likely lead to an appointment to fill his Senate seat, depending on the timing of his departure.  

The other high-stakes race on the ballot is the one to fill retiring US Senator Joe Manchin’s seat, which could swing the Senate to Republican control if it goes red. Our current governor, Jim Justice, trounced Congressman Alex Mooney by more than a 2-to-1 margin for the chance to take Babydog to Washington. What will Washington do with Babydog if he’s elected?

On the Democratic side, a three-way race between Glen Elliott, the current mayor of Wheeling; Zach Shrewsbury, a veteran and community organizer; and a bizarre cameo campaign by convicted coal baron Don Blankenship generated considerable interest. The Don pulled a surprising 18+ percent of the vote after airing a bizarre TV ad that prominently featured RFK Jr, and ended with Blankenship telling the TV audience not to believe it  “… if you’re told that I fell out of bed and hung myself!” Blankenship’s votes likely skewed the race to help Manchin’s endorsed candidate, Elliott, secure the nomination. So the Dems will have popular mayors running for governor and US Senate in November.

At the statehouse, several incumbents lost their seats to primary challengers. Most notably, Senate President Craig Blair was unseated by political newcomer Tom Willis in a three-way race. This will throw the whole Senate leadership into restructuring from the top down after the November elections and severely limits Blair’s effectiveness as a ‘lame duck’ Senate President. With an anticipated special session coming up to ‘finish up’ the ‘skinny budget’ that was hastily passed at the end of the session, we may have some additional fireworks as members jockey for leadership positions in the new regime. This may not bode well for fixing our budget shortfall, funding Medicaid or dodging the impending implosion in our state’s revenue from the ‘trigger’ that was baked into last year’s bill to phase out the state income tax. 

Another member of Senate leadership, Mike Maroney, Chair of the Senate Health Committee, was primaried by an anti-vaxxer preaching ‘medical freedom.’ As a physician, Maroney had the nerve to rely on medical science to inform his decisions on vaccines and treatments for transgender folks. As the Republicans continue to drift towards more extreme positions, it leaves less room and tolerance for the likes of Dr. Maroney. He was someone who could work both sides of the aisle on issues related to his medical expertise, but the hard-liners want none of that! Oh yeah, no mention of ‘medical freedom’ during this primary fight was directed toward protecting bodily autonomy. Humm, no double standard here?

As the dust settles from this major primary election, it’s evident that we all have our work cut out for us between now and November. We all need to do everything we can to help our friends and neighbors understand our critical juncture as a state and a nation. We must get like-minded folks registered and out to the polls to help restore balance and move toward a state government that better represents us all. We’re listing so far to the right that our ship of state may tip over and capsize! Of course, once we’ve righted the ship, we can continue to push for a more progressive agenda that will make Mountaineers always freer!

This brings up my final message. At WV Citizen Action, we are celebrating our 50th year with a back-to-our-roots dedication to return to our neighborhoods, knocking on doors, making phone calls and texts – and reaching out to frontline communities. We are expanding our grassroots base and building the relationships and power to win elections and make meaningful changes in people’s lives. We’re inviting you to become a part of this organizing revival right where you live! Your community needs you, and your involvement can make a significant impact. Call the office at 304-346-5891 or drop us a note at to let us know what interests you have in becoming a citizen activist in your community!

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