CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State Sen. Walt Helmick, despite opponents' claims that he wasn't a farmer, seemed poised to win a close election for state agriculture commissioner on Tuesday night.
Helmick, a Democrat from Pocahontas County, and Republican Kent Leonhardt were vying to succeed retiring Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass. With 89 percent of the state's precincts reporting, Helmick had 52 percent of the vote to Leonhardt's 48 percent.
In other statewide races, three Democratic incumbents held on to their positions.
State Treasurer John Perdue held off Mike Hall, the Senate's minority leader. Freshman Delegate Brian Savilla, like Hall a Putnam County Republican, was soundly defeated by Secretary of State Natalie Tennant in her quest for a second term. Larry Faircloth, a former veteran GOP legislator, similarly fell short against Auditor Glen Gainer.
Democrats hold majorities in both chambers of the Legislature, but Republicans greatly reduced their margin in the House of Delegates. With all 100 seats up for election, several Democratic incumbents fell Tuesday. Delegate Stan Shaver lost to Republican Randy Smith in Preston County, while the GOP's Joshua Nelson unseated Delegate Larry Barker in Boone County. In a redrawn, four-seat district representing Kanawha County, Republicans Suzette Raines and John McCuskey displaced Delegates Bobbie Hatfield and Bonnie Brown.
Republicans George "Boogie'' Ambler of Greenbrier County, John Shott of Mercer County and David Evans of Marshall County all won open seats held by retiring Democrats. Former GOP delegate Cindy Frich will return to the House, after winning a new seat added to Monongalia County.
With half of the 34-member Senate on the ballot, the GOP failed to field challengers to seven of the 11 incumbent Democrats running. Republican auto dealer Bill Cole won in a district dominated by Mercer County, upsetting Democratic Sen. Mark Wills. Another Republican, Chris Walters, bested Democrat Joshua Martin for a redrawn Senate seat representing Kanawha and Putnam counties that had been held by a Democrat.
Voters appeared to reject a proposed constitutional amendment that would repeal term limits for county sheriffs. While requiring a simple majority, previous attempts failed in 1994, 1986 and 1982.