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In praise of West Virginia voters

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I owe Republican Patrick Morrisey a public apology. In a column earlier this year, I gave him no chance of defeating Democrat Darrell McGraw for attorney general.

Voters proved me wrong.

McGraw went into this race with a 6-0 winning record in general elections.

To be sure, McGraw had barely escaped the last two elections. But the unions and trial lawyers always found a way to get him across the finish line.

Not this year.

Morrisey raised enough money to pound McGraw on the airwaves. Morrisey also pounded him on the ground, hitting the campaign trail hard.

Along the way, he learned a lot about the people he will serve come January -- and about proper footwear.

Many other Republicans in West Virginia also learned about the need to choose comfort over style when going door-to-door or marching in a parade.

Republicans had their best showing in the House of Delegates in 70 years.

Outspent by Democrats, the unions and the contingency fee lawyers, Republicans persevered and gained 11 seats to cut the Democratic edge in the House to 54-46.

House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, is now within five votes of becoming the first Republican Speaker of the House since John William Cummins of Wheeling turned the gavel over to Democrat J. Alfred Taylor in January 1931.

One has to go all the way back to 1942 to find a better showing for Republicans, when they whittled Democrats' majority down to 50-44.

Still, Republicans in West Virginia have yet to recover from the stock market crash of 1929.

The watershed 1930 election saw the House flip from 63-31 Republican to 65-29 Democrat -- a 34-seat shift.

The low point would come in 1964, when Democrats won a 91-9 majority in the House.

This year, Republicans fought for more single-member districts and recruited a fine crop of candidates.

The class included truck driver Scott Cadle of Letart, who became involved in politics because of a plan to make U.S. 35 a toll road.

He filed for office as a Republican and I am proud to say that he now represents Poca and the rest of the 13th House District, along with longtime Delegate Brady Paxton, D-Putnam.

Another recruit was Jim Butler of Gallipolis Ferry, who lives on the family farm after an illustrious career in the Marines.

He won in the 14th House District. He and Cadle are the first delegates from Mason County in 20 years. The last one was Democrat Charles Damron.

In Kanawha County, efforts to break up the gargantuan 30th House District paid off for Republicans.

Voters re-elected Eric Nelson,  added public relations executive Suzette Raines and - if vote totals hold -- lawyer John B. McCuskey.

Raines is 28. She succeeds a woman who first was elected to the House 30 years ago.

That shows which party has the new ideas and which is the party of ways that have failed the state for 80-plus years.

With the re-election of Delegate Eric Nelson, Republicans will hold three of the seven seats that were in the old 30th District.

All in all, voters gave Republicans six of the 11 delegate seats in Kanawha County's House districts No. 35 through 40.

In the state Senate, Republicans will be outnumbered "only" 25-9 as they picked up a few seats, including the 8th District, where two sons of delegates duked it out. Republican Chris Walters won.

Republicans also gained a seat on the state Supreme Court with the election of Allen Loughry. He will join Republican Justice Brent Benjamin on the court in January.

The party is building itself from the bottom up. Former Republican Delegates David McKinley and Shelley Moore Capito now serve in Congress.

Efforts to elect legislators to other statewide offices failed this year, but working one's way up from the House or the Senate takes time.

Just ask Earl Ray Tomblin, who spent more than 30 years in the Legislature before he became governor two years ago.

And as Morrisey and Loughry proved, there are other paths to the Statehouse - if you have the proper footwear.

Surber may be reached at donsurber@dailymailwv.com.


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