For a dozen years, this newspaper has warned that West Virginia — with many rural folks attuned to the GOP mantra of “God, guns and gays” — may follow Dixie as a “red state” in national elections. Now, our prediction is underscored by news that Democratic registration in the Mountain State has slipped below 50 percent for the first time since 1932.
The state Republican headquarters is jubilant over the new figures, claiming that a shift of power will be seen in the Nov. 4 general election.
Maybe — but a calm look at facts is needed. Republicans still are a small minority in West Virginia, barely outranking independents. Updated numbers from the secretary of state give this lineup:
Total registration: 1,226,745.
No party: 233,075.
Libertarian Party: 1,665.
Mountain Party: 1,502.
For the record, Deputy Secretary of State Sheryl Webb says “other” includes names like “Mickey Mouse Party” or whatever labels nonconformists give themselves.
Look back over the past 20 years: West Virginia had only 884,000 registered voters in the 1994 general election — and Democrats outnumbered Republicans more than two-to-one, 65 percent to 30 percent. Independents were tiny then, a mere 4 percent, compared to 19 percent today. The growth of independents has been stunning — partly fueled because both major parties allowed them to vote in party primaries.
Meanwhile, registration drives and the federal “motor voter” law (which lets anyone register while getting a driver license) boosted and broadened the state voter total.
It’s true that the Mountain State has backed the GOP national ticket in each election since 2000, and Republicans have made significant gains in state offices. This occurs while the GOP largely serves the rich and tries to slash America’s safety net securing average families.
Since West Virginia has multitudes who need the safety net, and few wealthy citizens, you’d think a majority would embrace the party that helps working families. We hope public realization of this obvious fact begins to reverse the state’s rightward swing.
Maybe the upcoming Nov. 4 election will show where West Virginia is heading.