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Analysis: WV Senate retirements spice up 2020 playing field

Blair and Boley

Sens. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, (right) and Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, share a laugh during a Jan. 18 floor session. After lopsided wins in 2016, both are up for reelection in 2020.

Nineteen state Senate seats are up for election in 2020. Eleven belong to Republicans, eight to Democrats.

As the formal window to file a run for office approaches in mid-January, here’s a look at the state of play for the West Virginia Senate:

The open seats

• The seat recently vacated by Sen. Greg Boso, R-Nicholas, may be among the most competitive in 2020. Boso won the seat in 2016 by a 2-point margin, while a Mountain Party candidate won 3 percent of the vote. Sen. John Pitsenbarger was appointed to the seat.

• Sen. Paul Hardesty, D-Logan, an appointee of Gov. Jim Justice, announced in September he’s not seeking reelection. Richard Ojeda won the seat decisively in 2016, but vacated it in January for a short-lived presidential bid. Rupie Phillips, a former House delegate with a “NOjeda” sticker on his car, has filed pre-candidacy papers for the seat.

• After 30 years as a lawmaker, Sen. Roman Prezioso told WV MetroNews he will not run for reelection. While his seat will likely stay blue (he won by 19 points in 2016), his absence will create an empty top spot for Senate Democrats and start internal jockeying to lead the caucus.

• Longtime lawmaker Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, said last month he will not run for reelection, deepening a leadership void for Democrats. He cited a deterioration of decorum in politics when explaining his decision. Former House Finance Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, is running for the seat.

• Amid legal trouble, Senate Health Chairman Mike Maroney has not yet filed for reelection. He won handily in 2016, but a December criminal trial in connection with a charge of soliciting prostitution looms over his race. He could not be reached Friday.

• After losing a committee chairmanship and bucking the party line on education issues throughout the session, Sen. Kenny Mann, R-Summers, announced Thursday he’s not seeking reelection.

The close calls

Quick take: One Democrat and two Republicans seeking reelection won by about 2 points or fewer in 2016. After the Senate pushed repeatedly for education overhauls including charter schools and education savings accounts, Republicans are likely to face outside spending from organized labor. However, Republican voter rolls have continued to swell in recent years.

• No incumbent edged closer to losing than Doug Facemire, D-Braxton, who eked out a .26 point margin of victory. Since 2016, registration has shifted toward Republicans in his district.

• Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, is among the most powerful figures in the Capitol, though he only won by 2.1 percent after a nasty campaign. In 2020, he faces a primary challenge on his right flank from Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason. Should Carmichael make it to the general, he’ll be the likely target of organized labor.

• Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld, R-Ohio, won in 2016 by 2.13 points. He shares the district with Sen. William Ihlenfeld, a Democrat who ousted a Senate Majority Leader, backed by unions, in 2018.

• Sen. Sue Cline, R-Wyoming, won her first election in 2016 by 3.6 points.

• Although Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, won by a sturdy 5.8 points in 2016, sources from both parties said her race will be tougher this time around. She was the public face of the education overhaul in the Senate, which likely earned her union opposition. Democrats also scored several wins in the area in 2018 in House, Senate and local races.

• Boso, see above.

The wanderers

Quick take: Two Democrats who are not up for reelection in 2020 are seeking office elsewhere. Should their gambits fail, they’ll have safe, unexpired terms to fall back on. If they win, the governor, whoever it may be, will be tasked to fill their seats.

• Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, a longtime lawmaker from Boone County, hopped into a field with three other Democrats seeking to challenge incumbent Gov. Jim Justice.

• Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monogalia, has announced plans to enter a crowded primary field of Democrats seeking to challenge Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt.

The rest

Quick take: Five Republicans and two Democrats who won their seats handily in 2016 are up for reelection this year. This provides a structural advantage for Republicans as far as maintaining their majority in the chamber.

• Rucker (see caveat above)

• Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam, won reelection in 2016 by 6 points

• Randy Smith, R-Tucker, won by 11 points

• Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, won by 14 points

• Bob Plymale D-Wayne, won by 14 points

• Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, won by 29 points

• Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, won by 41 points

Reach Jake Zuckerman at, 304-348-4814 or follow

@jake_zuckerman on Twitter.

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Funerals for Monday, November 18, 2019

Blackwell, Emily - 5 p.m., Coonskin Clubhouse, Charleston.

Buhl, Dolores - Noon, Our Lady of the Hills Catholic Church, Pinch.

Carr, Charles - Noon, St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, St. Albans.

Cobb, James - 1 p.m., Siniaville Cemetery, Statts Mills.

Duncan, Maxine - 1 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Evans, Anita - 1 p.m., Tyree Funeral Home, Mount Hope.

Hedrick Sr., Judson - Noon, Stevens & Grass Funeral Home, Malden.

Honeycutt, Amanda - 2 p.m., Osborne Cemetery, Craddock Fork, Lake.

Jarrell, Michael - 1 p.m., Greene - Robertson Funeral Home, Sutton.

Karnes, Shirley - 2 p.m., Gatens-Harding Funeral Home, Poca.

Stone, Penny - 2 p.m., Roush Funeral Home, Ravenswood.

Wilmoth, Patricia - 7 p.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation Inc., Grantsville.