It is unlikely you are thinking about who might succeed Jim Justice as West Virginia’s governor when his term expires. For potential candidates, however, it is never too early.
With apologies to those of you who would like to put politics behind you for a couple of years, here is my way-too-early list of potential candidates for the 2024 West Virginia governor’s race.
We start with the Republicans. The GOP wave in the 2020 election and the growth in Republican voter registration mean the list is long. In no particular order, it includes:
- J.B. McCuskey: The state auditor has made no secret of his interest in running for governor. He easily won reelection last November, so he has proven he can win a statewide race. McCuskey published a column recently outlining his vision for effective government.
- Patrick Morrisey: Morrisey has run statewide in general elections four times and won three, all for attorney general. His loss was only by three percentage points to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., in the 2018 Senate race. Morrisey is keeping his options open and also might have his eye on the Senate in 2024, when Manchin is up again.
- Mac Warner: Like McCuskey and Morrisey, Warner won statewide twice and is now in his second term as secretary of state. Warner also might be thinking about the U.S. Senate in 2024, but he is keeping his options open.
- Bill Cole: The former state Senate president lost the governor’s race to Jim Justice in 2016. Cole is a wealthy businessman and has been concentrating on those interests. However, he also has been a significant player behind the scenes for the GOP, raising and contributing money. Cole has patched things up with Justice and has been working with him on legislative initiatives.
- Chris Miller: Miller is the son of 3rd District Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va. Like Cole, Chris Miller also raised money for Republican candidates last election cycle, and he is now contemplating a run himself. Miller gets a lot of exposure in the Charleston-Huntington media market because he appears in his family’s auto dealership TV ads.
- McKinley/Mooney/Miller: West Virginia will lose one of its three congressional seats after redistricting. Three Republican incumbents — David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Carol Miller — and two seats mean the odd person out who wants to stay in politics could run for governor or U.S. Senate.
- Wildcard: 2024 is still a ways off, plenty of time for a person or persons not mentioned here to put together a campaign. Keep in mind a crowded field improves the chances of a candidate winning the primary election with just a plurality.
While Republicans are champing at the bit for a run at the governorship, Democrats are struggling. The steady decline in voter registration and the significant losses in the 2020 election leave the party scrambling for viable candidates. But here goes:
- Ben Salango: The Charleston attorney and Kanawha County commissioner ran a solid race for governor in 2020, but he was still swamped by Justice. Salango did build name recognition and would be a viable candidate again in 2024. However, does he want to spend even more of his own money, especially when it is becoming increasingly difficult for a Democrat to win statewide?
- Stephen Smith: Smith worked tirelessly for months to build grassroots support for his “West Virginia Can’t Wait” campaign for governor in 2020. That effort included many other progressive candidates for other offices. Smith raised real money on small donations and came within five points of Salango, proving that “small ball” can still be effective.
- Natalie Tennant: Former secretary of state Tennant was a rising political figure in West Virginia who has been caught in the undertow of the Republican wave. She has lost her last couple of races, but she has strong name recognition and is an energetic campaigner.
- Joe Manchin: I included his name on the list because, well, he’s Joe Manchin. He thought seriously about running for governor again in 2020, but he passed and stayed in Washington, where he is now a more significant player because of the 50/50 split. But with Joe, you never know.
- Wildcard: Who knows how many promising young Democrats got involved in politics thinking that they, too, could become governor one day? There are too many to list. Their dreams are likely tempered by the state’s deep red hue. However, some still might believe their political destiny awaits.