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Forecaster says 2016 governor's race 'leans Republican'

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Forecaster says 2016 governor's race 'leans Republican'
By Shauna Johnson, WV MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – More than a year ahead of West Virginia’s primary election, a political prognosticator from the University of Virginia is classifying the 2016 race for governor as “leans Republican.”

The status was “toss-up” last week before U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) declined to enter the race.

Kyle Kondik, managing editor for Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said the change has everything to do with Manchin’s decision.

“Ultimately, West Virginia’s movement toward the GOP in recent elections suggests that the Republicans should start this race with a small edge,” Kondik wrote before appearing Thursday on MetroNews “Talkline.”

“I don’t think that it’s a slam dunk or anything for the Republicans but, just given the way the political winds have shifted, I do think that in an open seat without someone like Manchin in the race, I do think you have to look at the Republicans as a favorite,” Kondik said.

Republicans now hold one U.S. Senate seat in W.Va., all three U.S. House seats, an 18-16 advantage in the state Senate and a 64-36 edge in the state House of Delegates.

Within the GOP, three candidates have confirmed they’re “seriously considering” runs for governor: 1st District Congressman David McKinley (R-W.Va.), state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Senate President Bill Cole (R-Mercer, 06).

For the Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall, 02) has filed pre-candidacy papers.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin’s name has been mentioned multiple times as a potential Democratic candidate while Jim Justice, owner of The Greenbrier Resort, has said he’ll make a decision on a possible campaign in the coming weeks.

“Obviously, the guy’s going to have a ton of resources and, if he runs a smart campaign, he could very well win it,” Kondik said of Justice. “(But) Just because he can spend unlimited amounts of money essentially on advertising, doesn’t necessarily mean he can win the race.”

Kondik called Manchin’s decision not to run for governor a “substantial break” for U.S. Senate Democrats.

“They would have had serious trouble holding his Senate seat,” Kondik wrote. “Even Manchin will have to fight hard for re-election (in 2018), but he retains strong favorability ratings.”