Alex Thomas, WV Metro News
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Outside of the U.S. Senate contest, it is hard to find a race in West Virginia that has garnered as much attention as that of the 3rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
While seeming like an easy Republican victory on paper (President Donald Trump won the district by a 49-point margin in 2016), the contest between state Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, and Delegate Carol Miller, R-Cabell, is one of the most watched in the country.
The winner will represent southern West Virginia, including the cities of Huntington, Bluefield and Beckley.
The seat is currently vacant; former Rep. Evan Jenkins resigned last month in order to become a justice on the West Virginia Supreme Court. He opted to run for U.S. Senate this year, losing to state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey in the Republican primary.
Available polling has shown Ojeda and Miller leading. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has the race as one of its “Red to Blue” matchups, and the organization began running advertisements this month against Miller.
The National Republican Congressional Committee in September named Miller as one of its “Young Guns;” the program promotes candidates that best embrace the message of the House Republican Conference.
As for political analysis organizations, most see the race as close but in Miller’s favor. FiveThirtyEight’s Geoffrey Skelley said while the 3rd District is not a race Democrats can easily win, a victory is still attainable.
“We know Ojeda could be a real threat because he won his state Senate district 59 percent to 41 percent in 2016, even as it backed Trump 78 percent to 19 percent,” he said.
Ojeda, first elected to the state Senate in 2016, doesn’t fit the typical image of a politician; his advertisements often show him in a t-shirt, Army pants and combat boots with him issuing call to arms.
“I’m not scared to say what needs to be said,” he said in an interview last week. “And I’m not scared to stand up against anybody. I don’t care what your party is.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are among those Ojeda has criticized in recent ads.
“I will not vote for her as speaker,” Ojeda said of Pelosi. “She has left our coal miners and their families out, and that’s unacceptable.”
Miller, elected to the House of Delegates in 2006, points to current politicians and lobbyists as the source of West Virginia’s problems.
“Times are tough in West Virginia. Jobs seem to grow scarcer by the day and families are struggling. Meanwhile, the politicians and lobbyists in Washington DC care more about taking away our guns than addressing the opioid epidemic facing our community,” she said in a message on her website.
“We need to send a representative to Congress who will fight for our West Virginia values and support President Trump — and that’s exactly why I’m running for Congress.”
The Miller campaign did not answer to multiple interview requests made before this article’s publication.
Additionally, Miller was scheduled to join Lara Trump, a senior advisor to the campaign of the president, last Thursday for tour a Dutch Miller car dealership — just one of the dealerships bearing the name of Miller’s father-in-law — and take part in a meet-and-greet in Raleigh County.
After Trump was unable to attend, journalists from multiple outlets, including MetroNews, requested to interview Miller that day in person or over the telephone to no avail.
Ojeda’s resume includes 24 years serving in the U.S. Army. He said after returning from Afghanistan, the Army stationed him in Beckley, West Virginia. He noted it was on the trips between Raleigh and Logan counties when he began noticing problems facing southern West Virginia.
“We have children that are struggling, going to bed hungry at night. There are children that have it worse than those in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “In Iraq and Afghanistan, the village will raise a child. Here, the parents are addicted to drugs and grandma and grandpa are trying to raise a child. They’re doing it on Social Security and they’re cutting their meds in half.”
Ojeda said the opioid epidemic is the root of the district’s problems.
“Big Pharma has killed more people last year than all of the lives lost during the Vietnam War, and we do nothing?” he asked. “There’s things I want to do, and number one is checking Big Pharma.”
He also mentioned how Miller owns of stock in McKesson Corp., one of the companies tied to the opioid epidemic. According to Miller’s financial disclosure statement with the House of Representatives, her husband owns stock in McKesson Corp. and Merck and Co. worth between $15,000 and $50,000 per asset.
Ojeda’s star power rose in the state Senate, where he spearheaded the medical marijuana bill passed in 2017. During the early months of this year, he was one of the leaders of the statewide teachers’ strike, which resulted in a 5 percent pay raise for all state employees and a task force dedicated to fixing the public employees’ insurance program.
“We have leadership in West Virginia that has been ignoring the working-class citizens. It just happened to really catch fire when the teachers said they were tired of this,” he said.
Ojeda listed off his other priorities if elected: protecting coal miner pensions, expanding broadband capabilities in southern West Virginia, providing infrastructure needs and attracting people and companies to the state.
“We have a phenomenal workforce, a low cost of living and we have places that are just waiting for factories to be built,” he said.
“It’s time for us to stop putting up a wall to block anything and everything out of this state. We actually have to build partnerships. I’ve actually talked to folks from Silicon Valley, and I’m trying to convince them to come to West Virginia because our students are graduating from places that actually educate students in technology, but our students have to leave West Virginia because we have no jobs.”
Ojeda has made some headway when it comes to legislative partnerships; he held an economic summit in August with Reps. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, in attendance. Ojeda suggested — based on previous discussions with Ryan — military contracting jobs as an option when it comes to possible new economic activity.
“The check don’t bounce and they’re never late,” he said. “There’s no reason why we can’t put all those up all over the 3rd Congressional District.”
Miller has been touting the actions of the Trump administration and the current Congress, including running advertisements featuring Trump’s endorsement of her at rallies held in Charleston and Wheeling.
“Send me to Washington and I’ll fight for the coal miner who keeps the lights on, the veteran who risked his life to protect our freedom, the senior citizen who worked hard earning their Medicare benefits,” she says in one advertisement.
“A woman that works very hard for you, Carol Miller,” Trump says in a clip from the event at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center.
Trump jabbed Ojeda at his Sept. 29 rally in Wheeling, calling him — although not mentioning his name — “stone-cold crazy” and a “wacko.”
“If I’m ‘stone-cold crazy’ because I won’t accept the fact that we’ve got children that go to bed hungry, that we’ve got an opioid epidemic that has killed thousands of West Virginians — if I’m ‘stone-cold crazy’ because I refuse to accept that, then I’ll be ‘stone-cold crazy,'” Ojeda said.
Ojeda voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election. He told MetroNews in May the first year of the Trump presidency was a “train wreck.”
He did note last week Trump has done positive things regarding coal production.
“Where I’m from in the coalfields, the coal miners are working. The trains are moving down the track and they’re full of coal. I’ll give him a thumbs up for that,” he said. “This is about putting food on the table. Everybody outside of West Virginia was quick to say we need to get away from that, but that’s what we have here.”
Miller said on her website her record as a delegate (“I’ve protected our Second Amendment rights and fought for good-paying jobs West Virginians deserve.”) shows she is the one who can best represent West Virginians.
“Please, join me in bringing our West Virginia values to Washington. With your help I can go to Congress to lower taxes, help create good paying jobs, end the opioid epidemic, and support President Trump,” she added.
Ojeda said West Virginia has some of the most skilled workers in the country, but that is not worth anything if they move to another state.
“We’ve got to give back to the working-class citizens. The middle-class is disappearing,” he said. “The Democratic Party has historically been the party to take care of working-class citizens. We’ve got to get back to doing that.”
With three weeks until Election Day, a debate between the two candidates has yet to be scheduled. Ojeda said he has agreed to multiple forums with no commitment from Miller.