Poll: WV prefers GOP for president, Democrat for governor

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Republican presidential candidates (from left) retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., businessman Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich listen to the U.S. national anthem before a Republican presidential primary debate at The University of Houston, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, in Houston.

West Virginians are likely to support a Republican for president in the fall, but by a narrow margin favor a Democrat for governor, a new poll has found.

The poll, by Orion Strategies, a firm with offices in Charleston and Buckhannon, also finds Donald Trump with a substantial lead among likely West Virginia voters in the Republican presidential primary and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders with a modest lead on the Democratic side.

Businessman Jim Justice leads the Democratic primary for governor with 24 percent of the vote, followed by Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler at 16 percent and former U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin at 14 percent. But nearly half of likely Democratic primary voters — 45 percent — remain undecided in the governor’s race.

“It’s still early in the election process, but these numbers give us a snapshot in time of where voters in West Virginia see the campaigns as of today — and many are still quite undecided,” said Curtis Wilkerson, principal of Orion Strategies. “Voters are telling us that they are going to absolutely vote Republican for president and currently are leaning toward voting slightly more Democratic for governor.”

The current Republican-led state Legislature has an approval rating of 31 percent. Respondents also gave a dim view of one of the Legislature’s chief accomplishments, right-to-work legislation. Only 32 percent believed it will help the state’s economy, while 47 percent believe it will hurt.

In the West Virginia Republican presidential primary, Trump has 38 percent support, followed by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio at 12 percent, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at 11 percent, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 10 percent and Ohio Gov. John Kasich at 6 percent.

On the Democratic side, Sanders leads former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by 32 percent to 24 percent.

One general election race in West Virginia will actually be decided on May 10, at the same time as the primary election — the race for state Supreme Court. Since judicial elections are now non-partisan, the May 10 election is the only chance voters will get to choose a justice.

In that race, former state Attorney General Darrell McGraw leads with 25 percent of respondents, followed by incumbent Justice Brent Benjamin at 10 percent, Morgantown attorney Beth Walker and former legislator Bill Wooton are both at 4 percent and Clay attorney Wayne King is at 2 percent. A whopping 55 percent of respondents were undecided.

“Currently, it seems that name identification is having impact until the television ads start airing,” Wilkerson said.

McGraw and Wooton have previously run for office as Democrats and Benjamin and Walker have run as Republicans.

Moving to the fall elections, 57 percent of poll respondents are likely to vote for a Republican for president and 24 percent favor a Democrat.

But for the governor’s race, 37 percent say they are likely to vote for a Democrat and 33 percent for a Republican.

In potential general election matchups, Justice leads Senate President Bill Cole, the presumptive Republican candidate, by 37 percent to 33 percent.

Cole leads Goodwin by 36 percent to 33 percent, and Cole leads Kessler by 40 percent to 30 percent.

In the presidential election, Trump more than doubles Clinton in a head to head matchup, with 61 percent to 24 percent. A generic, unnamed Republican beats Clinton by a slightly larger margin, 63 percent to 21 percent.

Only 23 percent approved of President Barack Obama’s work, while 54 percent approved of Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and 45 percent approved of Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.

The poll was conducted by live telephone interviews on Sunday and Monday. It had 306 respondents and has a margin of error of 5.6 percent.

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5119 or follow @davidlgutman on Twitter.

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