By Jim Ellis
July 13, 2017 — Two major announcements occurred during the last few days resulted in one individual becoming an official statewide candidate and another withdrawing from a campaign that had already begun.
West Virginia Senate
As had been expected for some time, two-term West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) announced his campaign for the United States Senate. He will face two-term Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-Huntington) in the Republican primary, with the winner drawing a difficult political match with Sen. Joe Manchin (D).
With average win percentages of 62 percent over two elections as governor (2004, ’08) in addition to a pair of Senate campaigns (2010 special election; 2012), Sen. Manchin appears to be in strong shape as he approaches his 2018 re-election. But, there are some cracks in his armor, hence the presence of two strong GOP opponents.
Though Sen. Manchin has attempted to cross the partisan line in his public relationship with President Trump and the Republican leadership on several issues, it is still a net negative for the senator to campaign on the same political landscape that proved to be the former’s second strongest state (69 percent).
Additionally, rumors are still floating that the senator hasn’t fully committed to seeking re-election, and his first quarter fundraising wasn’t particularly stellar for an in-cycle senator: $552,000 for the period ending with $2.17 million in the bank, though these are still credible financial numbers for a small state. It will be interesting to note the Manchin fundraising activity level once the second quarter numbers are reported on or before July 15. Those figures will tell us a great deal about the senator’s future political plans.
Finally, Manchin’s daughter, Heather Bresch the CEO of the Mylan pharmaceutical company, was caught in the eye of controversy toward the end of 2016 over raising prices of the EpiPen prescriptions by more than 500 percent for those who have severe and, under certain circumstances, life-threatening allergies. Questions about conflicts of interest surrounded the senator over this situation, and we are sure to hear about this subject matter often during next year’s campaign.
Morrisey enters the Senate contest with two statewide victories under his belt, originally winning his office in 2012 by unseating the incumbent with a 51-49 percent victory margin. The outcome made Morrisey the first Republican West Virginia attorney general since the 1928 election. He went onto win re-election last November with a 52-42 percent spread.
Though there was much fanfare surrounding Rep. Jenkins senatorial announcement in early May, the congressman’s campaign kick-off video has left him open to primary attack, and Morrisey plans to exploit the weakness. His video message excoriated Sen. Manchin for twice supporting President Obama’s election campaigns but, in fact, Jenkins did the same as a Democratic member of the state legislature. It was only in 2013, when preparing to run for the 3rd District Congressional seat, that he changed political parties. Therefore, Jenkins will have more than 16 years of votes as a Democratic member that will certainly open him to criticism in a statewide Republican primary.
It appears that the West Virginia Senate race will attract its share of attention in both the primary and general elections, and the campaign is poised to become a top-tier Republican challenge campaign despite Sen. Manchin’s overall popularity.
Two days ago, speculation was rampant in Colorado that Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Golden) was planning to withdraw from the governor’s race and would announce such at an impending public news conference. Wednesday, the congressman not only officially withdrew from the statewide campaign, but also said he will not return to seek re-election to the US House.
It appears that Perlmutter may have reached the end of his public political life, publicly lamenting in his announcement address that he “thought I could do it all. I’m telling you, in front of all of you, I can’t.” Aides indicated that the congressman was not relishing running against his congressional colleague, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder), and others said that Perlmutter feels he has lost the joy of campaigning. Rather than continue a race without any heart, he decided to withdraw. Rep. Perlmutter will serve the balance of the current congressional term, but will then retire once the session concludes at the end of next year.
In addition to Rep. Polis, former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, ex-state Sen. Mike Johnston, manufacturing company CEO Noel Ginsburg, and agri-businessman Adam Garrity are the announced Democratic gubernatorial candidates of note. Regional District Attorney George Brauchler is the most notable Republican. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is ineligible to seek a third term. Perlmutter’s open 7th Congressional District is expected to remain in Democratic hands.