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Way Out in West Virginia, the Political Vortex

The Mountain State keeps taking the stage for U.S. politics


The spectacle of politics and how it fits, or doesn’t, into the nation’s culture. Subscribe to our newsletter here.

Primary Colors

UNITED STATES - MAY 2: Tim Shea grinds a hook bar at Warwood Tool Company in Wheeling, W.Va., on May 2, 2018. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., who is running for the Republican nomination for Senate in West Virginia, was at the plant for a tour. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Tim Shea grinds a hook bar at Warwood Tool Company in Wheeling, W.Va., on May 2. Rep. Evan Jenkins, who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP Senate nomination in West Virginia, was touring the plant before Tuesday’s primary election. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

West Virginia occupies a unique place in the political universe. A small state, it hosts one of the most tightly contested Senate races of the midterms. But it also finds itself in the political conversation again and again. 

Once a bastion of Democratic populism and represented by the likes of Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, the Mountain State is now one of the most reliably Republican states in the country. 

Sen. Joe Manchin III, the lone Democrat remaining in the congressional delegation, is in what might be one of the toughest races of his career this year as he runs for a second full term in a state President Donald Trump won by more than 40 points in 2016. 

Republicans fought a nasty primary for the right to take him on. State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey beat Rep. Evan Jenkins and former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship on Tuesday, barely. 

Roll Call senior political writer Simone Pathé was in West Virginia in the days leading up to the primary, and she explained what she learned there in the latest Political Theater podcast.

Midterm Matchups

The marquee race between Manchin and Morrisey will help determine majority control of the Senate. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race a Toss-up

West Virginia voters also set the matchups for the three House races there, including the seat Jenkins vacated when he ran for the Senate.

Those races will look like this: 

Inside Elections rating: Solid Republican

Inside Elections rating: Solid Republican

  • 3rd District: Richard Ojeda II (D) vs. Carol Miller (R)

Inside Elections rating: Solid Republican

Coal Country

Trump won West Virginia’s five electoral votes so handily that he likely never had to step foot in the state again. But the president makes his support for the state and particularly its coal industry a point of pride and has made sure to tend the flock. 

“I am thrilled to be back in the very, very beautiful state of West Virginia. And I am proud to stand before you and celebrate the hardworking people who are the absolute backbone of America. Thank you. I love the people of the states. I love your grit, your spirit, and I love our coal miners,” the president said at an Aug. 2, 2017, rally in Huntington. 

As a sign of the political trends, Gov. Jim Justice, a former Republican who switched parties and ran as a Democrat in his successful 2016 run, switched back to the GOP just in time for that rally.

Trump was back in West Virginia on April 5 for what was billed as a tax-themed event at White Sulphur Springs to rally Republicans once again. It was his fourth trip to the state since taking office.

And congressional Republicans chose the Greenbrier Resort, located in White Sulphur Springs and owned by Justice, as the location of their policy retreat earlier this year

It’s enough to make one think that the state, with its five electoral votes and solid Republican pedigree, might be on its way to the center of the political universe. That might not change soon, considering the state’s proximity to Washington and the Manchin-Morrisey race’s implications for the next Congress.

Movie Time!

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 30: Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and his guest Jan Rader, Fire Chief of Huntington, W.Va., are seen before President Donald Trump's State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in the House chamber on January 30, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Joe Manchin III and his guest Jan Rader, fire chief of Huntington, W.Va., are seen before President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in the House chamber on Jan. 30. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Speaking of West Virginia, Political Theater had the opportunity to speak with Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader, one of the subjects of the Academy Award-nominated documentary “Heroin (e),” back in February

Have a listen:

Rader, one of three women on the battle lines in the fight against the opioid epidemic in West Virginia, had joined Manchin as his guest at January’s State of the Union. 

The Kicker

UNITED STATES - MAY 2: Protesters gesture and yell as presidential candidate Hillary Clinton pulls away after touring a health and wellness center in Williamson, W. Va., on Monday, May 2, 2016. Several dozen protesters stood in the rain to voice their opposition to Hillary Clinton's visit to coal country. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Throwback Thursday to May 2, 2016, when Roll Call captured this scene of the people of Williamson, W.Va., with some choice gestures for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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