An already packed 2024 Republican primary for West Virginia governor just got more crowded.
West Virginia Auditor JB McCuskey announced Wednesday that he will enter the race, making him the fourth big name in the GOP to enter the contest, joining Secretary of State Mac Warner, Delegate Moore Capito and auto dealer Chris Miller. Other, lesser-known Republicans have filed pre-candidacy papers, and there’s still a chance Attorney General Patrick Morrisey will jump in, too.
Candidates can’t officially file until January, so it isn’t guaranteed that everyone who has announced their candidacy will actually run. Candidates are undoubtedly using this time before the filing period to build a campaign and get a sense of their chances in the primary. Name recognition and fundraising are, for better or worse, the determining factors of a successful gubernatorial campaign. None of these candidates, who all come from political families well-established in West Virginia, are hurting for either, although just how far their names carry statewide will be put to the test. Fundraising will be an arms race. Miller, the son of Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., and Capito, son of Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., would seem to have an edge here, but it’s really too early to say.
It’s been a long time since either party had a primary this deep with viable contenders, so things might get ugly early. If they all stay in this race, it’s going to be a fight (doubly so if Morrisey jumps into the fray).
Of those who have declared, McCuskey perhaps has the least political baggage in the race. Warner, who runs the state’s elections, attended a “Stop the Steal” rally in 2020 as then-President Donald Trump spun the lie of voter fraud in his loss to Joe Biden. Miller’s mother voted against certifying Electoral College results after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Moore’s grandfather was a three-time West Virginia governor who went to prison on fraud charges. In the post-Trump world, it’s hard to tell if those types of things help or hurt a candidacy in West Virginia.
It’ll also be interesting to see how much Trumpism factors into the primary. The former president used to host rallies almost constantly in West Virginia, although those visits slowed considerably after his endorsement of Morrisey in the 2018 U.S. Senate race failed to unseat Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. The former president’s track record of endorsing losers, combined with his mounting legal problems, have many in the GOP looking for candidates who embody Trumpism but aren’t Trump. That’s going to be a continuing issue in 2024, with Trump again running for president and, so far, holding commanding leads in polls over potential GOP competitors.
The broader movement away from a twice-impeached president who cost the Republicans the White House and control of Congress, along with a historically terrible 2022 midterm performance doesn’t necessarily reflect the collective mood of the Mountain State. West Virginia is often behind the curve in national trends and went for Trump by nearly 70% in 2016 and 2020. The former president will factor into the governor’s race one way or another, as West Virginia has steadily moved toward nationalizing state politics.
It’ll be interesting, if not a bit terrifying, to see how this primary plays out and who is standing at the end.