Case Study: The Demise of the Democrats and the Rise of the Republicans in West Virginia

For nearly 83 years, the West Virginia Democratic Party had tight control over the state of West Virginia. At the local, state and federal level, Democrats ran West Virginia. In fact, the new West Virginia State Capital Building, built in 1932, has never had a Republican Speaker of the House.

However, the tide has changed in West Virginia, and a State dominated by Democrats pre-2010 now looks like a Republican stronghold post-2014. During the 80th Session of the West Virginia Legislature, from 2009 to 2011, the Democrats had control of the House of Delegates 65-35, and the State Senate was 28-6 in composition. Now, during the upcoming 82nd Legislature, the Republicans will have control of both houses, with 65 seats to 36 in the House of Delegates, and 18 to 16 in the West Virginia State Senate.

This monumental shift happened in such a short period of time. From 2010 to 2014, the Republican Party swung 30 seats in the House of Delegates and 12 seats in the State Senate. Why did this happen in a State that hadn’t elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate since 1956, a Republican in the Governor’s mansion since 2000 or a majority in the State Legislature since 1928?

The answer is simple – Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats have dramatically affected the lives of countless West Virginians. The President’s policies, which are extremely left compared to the centrist nature of the West Virginia Democratic Party, are having an extreme down ballot effect in the State that once was dominated by the Democratic Party. The ‘West Virginia Phenomenon’ goes to show that national politics can sometimes have a major impact on local politics.

Shelley Moore Capito

Shelley Moore Capito became the first Republican to win a Senate race in West Virginia since 1956.

Now, the West Virginia Republican Party is in control. In 2012, Patrick Morrisey became the first Republican Attorney General since 1933. Now, with the election of Shelley Moore Capito to the United States Senate, David McKinley’s reelection to the 1st Congressional district and the addition of Alex Mooney (R-WV-02) and Evan Jenkins (R-WV-03) to the delegation, as well as the recapturing of the State Legislature, West Virginia Republicans seemed to be primed for success in the future.

2016 is going to be a test for Republicans in the State. With all eyes fixed on outgoing Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s office, many Republicans are excited for the potential for a Republican to be elected Governor in 2014. In an interview with the Spirit of Jefferson, GOP Chair Conrad Lucas named Morrisey, U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., and state Sen. Bill Cole, R-Mercer, who will become Senate president and lieutenant governor in January, as possible candidates for Governor in 2016. “We see those three gentlemen as potentials on our side,” Lucas said.

About Blake Humphrey

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Born in Orlando, Florida, Blake and his family moved to Wheeling, West Virginia in 1997. Since then, Blake has become involved politically in the Mountain State. In 2010, he helped Erikka Storch win a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates. From 2011 to 2013, Blake interned for Congressman David B. McKinley. In 2012, Blake managed two campaigns (Patty Levenson for Ohio County Commissioner and Bob Miller for Marshall County Commissioner). In May of 2014, Blake graduated from Wheeling Park High School. He served as Senior Class President, Student Council Vice President, and as the Student Representative to the West Virginia Board of Education and the Ohio County Board of Education. Blake currently resides in Morgantown, West Virginia where he is attending West Virginia University. Currently, Blake serves as a Member of the West Virginia University Student Government Association Board of Governors. As a Member of the Board, he is currently working on college and textbook affordability issues. Blake is majoring in Political Science and Economics. In his free time, Blake enjoys traveling, hiking, fine coffee and reading.