CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Democrats are aiming to extend their dominance of West Virginia's executive branch for another four years, and not just with the testy race for governor. But GOP contenders are seeking to topple the incumbents while capturing an open seat.
The five other statewide offices that are part of West Virginia's Board of Public Works are also up Tuesday. The contest for attorney general likely has the highest profile among these. Attorney General Darrell McGraw, a 76-year-old Democrat, is seeking a sixth term. The office represents the state and its agencies and officials in court. It does not handle criminal cases, though it does routinely represent county prosecutors in criminal appeals.
McGraw has placed much focus on enforcing consumer protection and antitrust laws. Over the years, his office has sued direct mail marketers, credit card companies, alternative lenders and other businesses. Perhaps the office's biggest case has been the lawsuit filed along with other states against the major U.S. cigarette makers, seeking to recoup public funds spent treating tobacco-related ailments. That case resulted in a multibillion-dollar settlement for the state.
Challenging McGraw is Patrick Morrisey, a 44-year-old Eastern Panhandle resident. Previously a senior aide and committee lawyer for Republicans in the U.S. House, Morrisey was a member of a Washington, D.C., corporate law firm when he filed to run. He is a foe of the federal health care overhaul and opposes carrying out its provisions in the state. He also argues that federal regulations have hurt West Virginia, and says he would devote resources to combat them.
Among other issues, the two campaigns have jousted over McGraw's handling of settlement proceeds, and his hiring of private-practice lawyers to help handle major cases. Robert Rupp, political science professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College, noted that previous opponents have similarly targeted McGraw.
"He's been playing the role of the vulnerable candidate who wins so many times, it's kind of like Groundhog Day,'' Rupp said.
Morrisey had spent $1.3 million as of Oct. 21 on his bid to defeat McGraw-- more than the incumbent and all of the other candidates for the five statewide offices combined, including those who ran in the primary. Non-candidate groups have devoted another $3 million to the race.
Mitt Romney is heavily favored over President Obama, who has low approval ratings in West Virginia, so state GOP officials hope that will help other Republican candidates on the ballot. Morrisey is among the Republican contenders who have attacked Obama as part of their campaigns. But Rupp questions whether voters may instead end up zig-zagging as they fill out their ballots. He cited the popularity of such Democrats as U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, who is favored in his bid for a full term this year.
Republican Kent Leonhardt and state Sen. Walt Helmick, a Greenbrier County Democrat, each seek to succeed retiring Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass. Leonhardt operates 380-acre farm in Monongalia County where he raises cattle, sheep and goats while also growing produce and hay. Helmick has a spring water bottling business on his 200-acre property. Helmick has also grown hay for use by neighboring farms.
Leonhardt and his supporters have made an issue of Helmick's farming credentials. Helmick, a recent Senate Finance Committee chairman, argues his background allows him to aid economic development through the agriculture office. Among its duties, the department promotes West Virginia-grown farm products, as well as soil conservation. It also inspects crops and livestock while combating pests and predators that threaten both.
Treasurer John Perdue manages the state's cash flow and invests a portion of its public funds. First elected in 1996, the Democrat has highlighted such additional efforts as a college savings plan and a program that tries to reunite people with such unclaimed property as safe deposit boxes, bank accounts and insurance policy proceeds.
Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall has questioned Perdue's focus beyond the office's core duties as he campaigns for the office. The Putnam County Republican, who is a financial adviser, has also sought to remind voters of the recent federal investigation of a housing development deal involving land owned by Perdue's family. Perdue has said he did nothing wrong, and no criminal charges have emerged from the probe.
Freshman Delegate Brian Savilla, R-Putnam, is running to unseat Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. The 30-year-old champions requiring voters to show a valid photo ID before they can cast ballots. He has also criticized Tennant's handling of her election-related duties.
In seeking her second term, Tennant cites how her office has successfully overseen seven elections in less than three years. Those include last year's special primary and general elections for governor, and a last-minute special primary for U.S. Senate in 2010 following the death of Robert C. Byrd. The former broadcaster has also campaigned on her efforts to bring more of her office's business filing and licensing services online.
Another Democrat seeking a sixth term, Auditor Glen Gainer, faces a challenge from former longtime legislator Larry Faircloth, a Berkeley County Republican. Each has campaigned on his public service record. The auditor's office reviews the finances of both state and local government offices, among other duties.