WHEELING - Some Ohio County Republican Party Executive Committee members say they likely will support the re-election of Delegate Ryan Ferns, a Democrat, unless the party finds a legitimate candidate to challenge him next year.
Following an executive committee meeting last week, Republican Party Chairwoman Patty Levenson indicated the Ohio County GOP likely would focus its 2014 efforts on electing a Republican to Ferns' 3rd District House of Delegates seat.
Levenson said it is important that Republicans gain control of the House, noting five seats are needed to overcome the Democrats' current 54-46 edge in numbers.
The comments from Levenson set off a flurry of emails between committee members starting Tuesday morning.
Some questioned the wisdom of targeting Ferns, a conservative Democrat who often votes with Republicans.
The most recent example came with his vote last month against new House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, when he instead cast his vote for House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha.
Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, presently holds the second House seat representing the 3rd District, and neither she nor Ferns have announced whether they will run for election in 2014.
Ohio County Republican Party Executive Committee members Charles Schlegel and Susan Cookman both said they objected to Levenson's comments as the executive committee as a whole has yet to discuss candidates for 2014.
"The Ohio County Republican Party did not officially support (Ferns) last year, nor will they do it this year," Schlegel said. "But if he is a better choice than the candidate who runs for the Republicans, that makes sense (Republicans would vote for him.) It doesn't matter what his party affiliation is.
"The state party is not looking at this place as a pick-up unless someone comes out of the woodwork to run. We need to have someone better than Ryan Ferns as a candidate - and just being a Republican doesn't make him better."
Cookman added Ohio County is fortunate to have two delegates that work together as well as Ferns and Storch.
"As a party, it would be stupid to target Ryan Ferns," Cookman said. "While he is of a different party, he is supportive of what we believe in.
"We make ourselves look backwards when we don't work with candidates. It doesn't matter whether they are from our party, as long as they work with us."
State Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas said the state party "would back any strong candidate," but he doesn't believe the Ohio County delegate race is one where Republicans have the best chance of winning a House seat.
"We're feeling more confident in other races," he acknowledged.
Schlegel, meanwhile, said the state party's input doesn't matter in Ohio County.
"All politics is local," he commented. "We are not concerned as to whether the state party can pick up five more seats."
Cookman believes the Republican's gains will come elsewhere.
"We're the Ohio County Republican Party - not the Republican Party of West Virginia," she noted. "That's where people get confused."
Levenson, though, believes it's the county GOP's duty to help Republicans get elected.
"It is our responsibility to put Republicans in office, or to try to put someone there," she said. "We want to win the majority in the House of Delegates. Without having the majority, we cannot set the agenda.
"Our education system is floundering, and our economic position is almost last. We want the opportunity to make it better in West Virginia, and the only way to do that is to have a Republican majority in the Legislature."