By LAWRENCE MESSINA
CHARLESTON (AP) —
A handful of West Virginia counties are becoming pricey battlegrounds as Republicans seek to take over the House of Delegates, while a few state Senate races have emerged as the most expensive overall for the recently redistricted Legislature, the latest campaign finance reports show.
With Democrats holding a 15-seat edge in the 100-member House, the filings that cover May 21 through Sept. 23 show significant fundraising and spending in districts representing Jefferson, Kanawha, Raleigh and Monongalia counties. Senate districts in the Eastern Panhandle and along the state’s southern border, meanwhile, report the most campaign activity for that chamber.
Half the Senate’s 34 seats are on this year’s ballot, though Democrats appear poised to keep their majority. That party occupies all but six of the Senate’s seats, and seven of the 17 seats up for election are held by Democrats who are uncontested in November.
All told, legislative candidates raised around $1.1 million and spent about as much during the four-month reporting period that followed the May primary. Their collective campaign balances topped $2.1 million heading toward the general election. Candidates will file one more round of reports later this month before the Nov. 6 vote.
The election is the first since the House and Senate districts were redrawn in response to the 2010 Census. Among other changes, the House increased the number of districts from 58 to 67 while expanding the ranks of single-seat districts from 36 to 47. Reflecting population changes, the new map shifts additional seats into the Eastern Panhandle and Monongalia County at the expense of the southern coalfields and the Northern Panhandle.
The Senate maintained its roster of 17, two-seat districts but redrew them to reflect the population trends. Changes include districts that divide 13 counties among two and in some cases three districts, and the loss of Kanawha County’s two overlapping districts with the creation of one shared with neighboring Putnam County.
Republican lawyer John McCuskey raised and spent the most of any House candidate during the reporting period, seeking one of four seats in Kanawha County’s new 35th district. He collected more than $36,500, including $5,000 at the Washington, D.C., offices of American Center for Law and Justice, a Christian legal group founded by evangelist Pat Robertson. Out-of-state fundraisers are rare for West Virginia legislative candidates. McCuskey raised another $24,400 at the Charleston home of Andrew A. “Drew” Payne III, a coal and timber company president and chairman of West Virginia University’s Board of Governors. Of the $20,600 spent by McCuskey, $8,500 went to ads with Charleston newspapers and $4,000 paid for billboards.
Eastern Panhandle lawyer Stephen Skinner attracted the next-largest amount among House candidates, $29,376, with fellow lawyers and labor union political action committees among his donors. Skinner still had $56,200 on hand Sept. 23 compared to the $14,900 reported by his Republican rival, Elliot Simon, in the single-seat 67th District representing Jefferson County.
Other single-seat races in that county also saw significant campaign finance activity. Democrat John Maxey outraised the GOP’s Paul Espinosa, $16,200 to $4,000, in the 66th District. But each had campaign balances around $20,000 — Maxey had slightly more — after Espinosa loaned his campaign $10,000.
Fellow Republican Jill Upson loaned her campaign $20,000, the most of any House candidate, as she challenges Delegate Tiffany Lawrence in the county’s 65th District. Though the Democrat slightly outraised Upson, the self-financing gave her a 3-1 edge over Lawrence for cash on hand.
Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, a Democrat, raised $27,600 in a Monongalia County district that lawmakers expanded from four seats to the House’s largest at five. In neighboring Preston County, Republican Randy Shaver collected nearly $24,400 toward his challenge of Delegate Stan Shaver. The 53rd District Democrat raised less than $4,000. A mine section foreman for Mettiki Coal, Smith received heavy support from executives for mine parent company Alliance Resource Partners and other industry interests.
Other active races include the 30th District in Raleigh County, where GOP Delegate Linda Sumner and former Democratic lawmaker Bill Wooton each spent more than $11,000.
Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, raised $51,800 — the most of any legislative candidate — and spent $86,100 in that chamber’s 16th District. His Republican challenger, Jim Ruland, loaned his campaign $25,000 in an effort to keep pace after receiving just $1,300 from donors.
But the biggest loan of the filing period came from Mercer County auto dealer Bill Cole, who devoted $70,000 in personal funds toward his challenge of Sen. Mark Willis in the redrawn 6th District. That allowed Cole to spend the most during the four months, $94,000, largely on TV ads. A Democrat, Wills outraised Cole $19,500 to $15,800, and also had a $24,300 balance to Cole’s $10,500.
Contributors to legislative candidates during the reporting period included the PAC for the state’s nursing home association, which distributed $17,000 among candidates from both parties. Members of the Elliot family, which has holdings in that industry, also gave thousands through mainly to Republicans.
The Democrats’ Senate Leadership Council contributed $1,000 each to six candidates for that chamber, including Wills and Snyder. The New Majority Fund PAC, created to aid the GOP’s House takeover quest, raised and spent no money during the period. But the West Virginia Republican Legislative Committee PAC spread $5,500 among 17 GOP hopefuls. Beneficiaries included three of the four GOP candidates in Harrison County’s 48th district, a Democratic stronghold, and three of the five Republicans running in Monongalia’s redrawn 51st District.
Lawrence Messina covers the statehouse for The Associated Press. Follow him at http://twitter.com/lmessina