By LAWRENCE MESSINA
CHARLESTON (AP) —
West Virginia ended its candidate filing period Saturday, but the results of more than 50 of this year’s legislative races are already largely decided, according to a review by The Associated Press.
Half of the 34-seat state Senate is up in 2012. A lack of opposing party candidates means that 12 of those 17 seats will remain with the party that now holds them. The Democrats appear guaranteed to hold a majority of at least 23 seats in that chamber: nine from this year’s races, and 14 not up for election this year.
Democrats are also the majority in the House of Delegates, where all 100 seats are on the ballot. They are likely to keep 23 of those seats, and the Republicans 16, because of a dearth of general election challengers. Three additional incumbent Democratic delegates drew no major party opponents but did see Mountain Party candidates file in their districts. The same is true for one GOP incumbent. The Mountain Party has ballot access in West Virginia, and represents around 1,240 of the state’s 1.2 million registered voters.
Well before November’s general election, the state will hold party primaries May 8. This will be the first vote governed by the legislative districts that were redrawn last year following the 2010 Census results. Among other changes, the growing Eastern Panhandle and Morgantown areas gained seats, partly at the expense of the southern coalfields and Northern Panhandle where populations declined.
The House increased its number of single-member districts, but still has several that encompass multiple seats. The Senate shifted several districts, reshaping one to stretch along the state’s southern border from Wayne to Mercer counties. It also redrew one of two districts representing Kanawha County so it includes neighboring Putnam County.
But in the 17 redrawn Senate districts, an absence of same-party candidates will lead to just four contested primary races for Democrats and one for Republicans on May 8. Of the 67 new House Districts, just 21 will host primary contests for Democrats. Only nine will for Republicans.
Candidates still have a chance to join these races. State election officials will accept any mailed-in candidate filings that were postmarked by Saturday’s midnight deadline. Political party committees also have until Feb. 10 to pick candidates to fill vacancies, while the party chairmen can do so until Feb. 14. Candidates can also withdraw up until that latter date. Election officials will certify the roster of candidates on Feb. 14.
Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, is among those who appear to be shoo-ins for want of a primary or general election opponent. Much of his top leadership team will remain intact for similar reasons: Finance Chair Roman Prezioso of Marion County; Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo of Kanawha County; and Education Chair Robert Plymale of Wayne County. The same seems true for several of their fellow Democrats: Sens. Bill Laird of Fayette County, Doug Facemire of Braxton County, Bob Williams of Taylor County, and Herb Snyder of Jefferson County.
Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, also has no primary or general election challengers. Neither does former Delegate Craig Blair, a Berkeley County Republican who filed in the Senate’s redrawn 15th District. The seat now held by Sen. Donna Boley of Pleasants County will remain in GOP hands, but primary voters must first choose between her and former legislator Frank Deem.
House Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, is among 14 single-seat district candidates — nine of them Republicans — who are entirely unopposed. The other assured party seats are in multi-member districts where not enough Democrats or Republicans filed to fill the ballot. The two-seat, Wayne County district shared by Speaker Rick Thompson and Health and Human Resources Chair Don Perdue is an example of this.
The most crowded primary will be in the new, four-seat 35th District representing part of Kanawha County. Nine Democrats and 10 Republicans filed there. The redistricting process split what was a seven-member Kanawha County district into the 35th and another with three seats. This other district, the 36th, has drawn seven Democratic and three GOP candidates.
Among the House incumbents, seven are running for other offices instead of seeking re-election. Another nine are retiring. Redistricting appears to have been a factor in several of the decisions not to run. At least 10 delegates sought other offices or otherwise opted against another term in each of the last two general elections.
Retirements will cost Democrats at least one seat: no one from his party filed to succeed Delegate John Doyle in the new 66th District, representing Jefferson County. Republican Paul Espinosa is the sole candidate for that seat.
Lawrence Messina covers the statehouse for The Associated Press. Follow him at http://twitter.com/lmessina