CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In a night that saw West Virginia turn Republican red in U.S. Senate and U.S. House races, Republicans on Tuesday also took control of the state House of Delegates, ending an 83-year Democratic reign in the 100-member legislative body.
Also, in an election-night surprise, Republicans were on pace to pick up seven seats in the state Senate — leaving that body in an apparent 17-17 split between Democrats and Republicans.
It was a night when voters swept out long-serving Democratic delegates, including Speaker Pro Tem Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock; and Delegates Dale Stephens, D-Cabell; John Pino, D-Fayette; Charlene Marshall and Tony Barill, both D-Monongalia; Danny Wells, D-Kanawha; and Tiffany Lawrence, D-Jefferson, among many others.
In the Senate, prominent Democrats including Sens. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo; Erik Wells, D-Kanawha; Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel; Mike Green, D-Raleigh; and Greg Tucker, D-Nicholas, were unseated, while Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, was defeated in a bid for the seat currently by retiring Democratic Sen. Brooks McCabe.
House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, would become the speaker of the House if Republicans vote to keep him in his leadership position.
State Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio said it was clear that voters vented their frustration with President Obama.
“We know the people of West Virginia, whether Democrat, Republican or independent, were not pleased with Barack Obama’s policies, and they came out and showed it today,” Puccio said. “I think they’ve hurt the people of West Virginia in doing so, but they sent a very powerful message.”
Puccio said he thought voters would make a distinction between their displeasure with the president and with Democrats in their local legislative races, but that proved not to be the case.
“I didn’t think, when it got down to the legislative level, it would resonate, but it clearly, obviously did,” he said.
State Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas downplayed Obama’s impact on the legislative races.
“The results were overwhelming. This is a referendum on West Virginia’s future,” Lucas said.
“We understand the huge responsibility that’s been given to us by the voters, and we feel we’re up to the task and look forward to it,” he said.
Having made gains in the 2010 and 2012 elections, Republicans had narrowed the House to a 53-47 Democratic majority, one of the key election-night dramas was whether state Republicans could pick up an additional four seats, flipping control of the House for the first time in more than eight decades. The party did much more than that.
Tuesday’s gains were not confined to particular parts of the state, with Republicans picking up three seats in the Northern Panhandle, two in Monongalia County, two in Putnam County, two in Fayette County and seats in Wood, Cabell, Kanawha, Clay and Jefferson counties.
Going into Election Day, Puccio was confident Democrats would retain control of the House, which he said would be tantamount to a victory for the party following what he called “as hard a year as I have ever seen for Democrats.”
Republicans, meanwhile, were counting on the unpopularity of Obama, and strong GOP turnout for candidates in U.S. Senate and congressional races to carry over to elections for control of the state House. Lucas said the party was approaching Election Day with “incredibly cautious optimism.”
While many national political prognosticators had projected the House would flip, an analysis by political science students at West Virginia Wesleyan College predicted that when the dust settled, the House would remain at a 53-47 Democratic majority.
However, that projection, aptly named “House in the Balance,” noted the final outcome could be determined by as few as eight to 10 toss-up races.
That included races in the 35th and 36th Districts in Kanawha County — multimember districts where “House in the Balance” projected toss-ups among candidates competing for the final seats in each district.
Ultimately, however, the 35th District maintained a 3-1 Republican majority, while Republican Brad White, a Charleston businessman, broke up what had been a 3-0 Democratic majority in the 36th District, knocking out incumbent delegate Wells.
Reach Phil Kabler at email@example.com, 304-348-1220 or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.