By JOHN RABY, Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Republicans tightened their grip on the West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates, adding historic gains to their supermajorities in the general election.
Eight years since taking control of both chambers for the first time in eight decades, the GOP now has its most lopsided advantage in the Legislature in modern history.
“The most importance sentence in West Virginia politics is that West Virginia has always had a two-party system, but it is not a competitive two-party system,” Robert Rupp, a retired political history professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College, said Wednesday . “It has gone from one extreme to the other one.
“If we go back 50 years, we had the Democrats being just as dominant as the Republicans are now. At the beginning of the 21st century, the Republicans bounded out of nowhere. And now they are just simply on a roll.”
Republicans swept 15 of the 16 Senate races that had been called by The Associated Press, flipping six seats from Democrats in the process. The GOP increased its rolls from 23 to 29 seats in the 34-seat Senate, with one race still too early to call. Half of the chamber was not up for reelection.
Republicans gained at least seven House seats and now hold an 87-10 advantage with three races uncalled.
While voters backed GOP lawmakers, they did not back their proposals, soundly defeating four ballot measures that advanced earlier this year by the Republican-dominated Legislature.
“The tendency of victors is to overreach,” Rupp said. “When they overreach, West Virginia voters slap it down. And the fact that it’s always easier to say no than yes, — and they really said no — it was a rebuke against Republican leadership.”
One-fourth of the races on Tuesday’s ballot had no Democratic candidates. Democrats’ chances of cutting into the GOP’s stronghold were also minimized by being outnumbered by Republican voters in 35 of the state’s 55 counties.
Democrats had hoped to seize on the abortion issue to turn things around, urging voters to go to the polls after the Republican governor signed a sweeping abortion ban with few exceptions in September.
Instead, Democrats now have only a sliver of seats in both chambers.
Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin of Greenbrier County lost to GOP challenger Vince Deeds, a retired state trooper running in his first race. Baldwin was elected to the House in 2016, then appointed in the Senate a year later.
Democrat Ron Stollings, a four-term senator from Boone County, lost to former US Attorney Mike Stuart, a Republican.
Democrat Richard Lindsey of Kanawha County lost to Republican Mark Hunt, a former Democrat who served 14 years in the House of Delegates.
Republican Laura Wakim Chapman, an attorney from Wheeling, won a Northern Panhandle seat over Democrat and former Delegate Randy Swartzmiller, who had defeated incumbent Democrat Owens Brown in the primary.
GOP Delegates Ben Queen and Jason Barrett won Senate seats. Queen defeated Libertarian Austin Lynch to win a seat from north-central West Virginia vacated by Democrat Mike Romano. No Democrat was entered in the race. Barrett ousted incumbent Democrat Hannah Geffert in their Eastern Panhandle district.
The lone Democrat to win a Senate race was Mike Woelfel of Cabell County, defeating Republican Melissa Clark.
In a race that was too early to call, former Democratic Sen. Mike Oliverio of Monongalia County, now a Republican, led Democratic Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer. The seat was held by Democrat Bob Beach, who chose not to seek reelection.
At least four House Democrats lost their reelection bids. Among those included Cody Thompson, an openly gay man who fell to a neighbor’s son and political newcomer, Republican Elias Coop-Gonzalez.
Democrats long ruled the state on the strength of their strong union presence and a clear identity as the party of working people, holding supermajorities in both chambers as recently as 2008. But in the 2014 general election, voters in the coal-dependent state steered their disgust toward Democratic President Barack Obama’s efforts to cut carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. Obama was so unpopular in West Virginia that a federal inmate in Texas received 41% of the vote in the state’s 2012 Democratic presidential primary.
Republicans took control of both legislative chambers after the 2014 election.
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