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Morrisey narrowly unseats Attorney General McGraw

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Republican challenger Patrick Morrisey unseated incumbent Attorney General Darrell McGraw Tuesday, ending the Democrat's 20-year hold on the post and perhaps marking the start of major changes to West Virginia consumer protection litigation.

With 1,640 of 1,846 precincts reporting about 11 p.m. Tuesday, Morrisey appeared to narrowly win the office with 283,818 votes, or 51 percent. McGraw came in with 277,318, or 49 percent, according to unofficial numbers from The Associated Press.

McGraw has held the attorney general post since 1992 and has won the state more than $2 billion in consumer protection lawsuit settlements against pharmaceutical, coal and tobacco companies and unscrupulous lenders, according to his office.

Morrisey, backed by industry groups opposed to McGraw's focus on consumer protection lawsuits, spent more than $1.2 million in his bid to unseat the incumbent. McGraw spent just under $150,000 on his campaign.

"We have a bold vision for what the office of attorney general can do to protect jobs and consumers in this state, improve West Virginia's business and legal climate, and advance ethics reform," Morrisey said in a prepared statement. "We will soon begin to execute that plan in a manner that will make West Virginia proud."

McGraw gave a short statement Tuesday shortly after ceding the contest to Morrisey.

"We fought the fight, we never lost the faith, we have stayed the course," McGraw said, according to a staffer.

In keeping with previous contests, this year's attorney general race was not without its vitriol. McGraw accused Morrisey, a New Jersey native who has had a home in West Virginia for six years and was admitted to the State Bar just four days before he filed for office, of "carpetbagging" to the state to win the attorney general seat.

Morrisey, a former congressional candidate in New Jersey, is also licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.

As with many statewide Republican candidates this year, Morrisey tried to tie McGraw to President Obama, who is unpopular in West Virginia. Morrisey criticized McGraw for not challenging federal health-care reform and other federal regulations.

"For too long, this state has been under attack from the Environmental Protection Agency and overreaching laws and regulations, such as Obamacare," Morrisey said. "These Obama policies have harmed West Virginia. It's now time for West Virginia's attorney general to fight back."

Last month, Morrisey sent a staffer to videotape McGraw at a campaign rally and pepper him with questions -- an increasingly common tactic that some say candidates use in hopes of turning their opponents into Internet fodder.

McGraw asked the man, "Are you a stalker?" before apparently grabbing the camera.

The Morrisey campaign accused McGraw of assaulting the staffer and demanded a public apology, which McGraw did not give.

Morrisey said that McGraw has "impaired judgment" and has repeatedly challenged him to a public debate.

"It is not appropriate for the attorney general of West Virginia to debate whether or not we ought to follow the law," McGraw said during a Gazette Editorial Board meeting last month, seconds after snubbing another of Morrisey's debate requests.

Morrisey's criticisms of McGraw's long tenure at times echoed those levied by the attorney general's opponents in previous elections. He accused McGraw of disbursing settlement money to gain favor with voters and vowed that his office would ask the Legislature to appropriate all settlement awards.

Morrisey also said he would not promote himself by using taxpayer funded "trinkets" and public advertisements and promised to implement a competitive bidding process when the office considers hiring outside lawyers to handle cases.

In 1994, McGraw filed a lawsuit against 23 cigarette companies in an effort to eliminate the companies' advertising to young people. The companies eventually agreed to a $1.7 billion settlement.

In 2001, McGraw sued Purdue Pharma, the maker of the powerful painkiller Oxycontin on allegations that the company pushed the drug doctors who prescribe it to undeserving patients. He negotiated a $10 million settlement with that company.

McGraw has also targeted out-of-state lenders who allegedly prey on West Virginia borrowers by ignoring lending laws.

Last month, a South Dakota lending company accused of using its connection to an American Indian tribe to charge West Virginia consumers towering interest rates agreed to pay $135,000 to 120 West Virginians.

In June, McGraw filed a civil action in Jefferson County that accused a Virginia-based auto loan company of threatening consumers charging illegal interest rates.

Reach Zac Taylor at zachary.taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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