WHEELING -There's plenty at stake for West Virginia in this year's election - including control of the House of Delegates and a changing of the guard in the U.S. Senate - yet Tuesday's primary seems to be drawing little more than a collective yawn from many Mountain State voters.
The outcome in the race to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. - a showdown between Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and Democrat Secretary of State Natalie Tennant - is all but certain. And on the state level, among the six Northern Panhandle delegate districts, only two - the 3rd and 4th - feature contested primaries.
"Given the importance and significance of this election, I'm surprised at the lack of interest in this primary," said Robert Rupp, a history and political science professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College.
Across the river in Ohio, less than 17 percent of registered voters cast ballots during that state's primary on Tuesday, and West Virginia typically finds itself near the bottom of voter turnout rankings.
If voters Tuesday prove as apathetic as Rupp fears they may, it could have significant consequences - particularly in races with a large field.
Such is the case in West Virginia's 2nd Congressional District, where seven Republicans are seeking their party's nomination for Capito's open seat.
"The danger is a candidate could get (the nomination) with very few voters - could win with 25 percent of the vote - which would mean 75 percent of the voters did not support this candidate," Rupp said. "It could offer a number of surprise candidates."
An upset on the GOP side could be good news for Nick Casey, who is considered the favorite to win that race's Democrat primary over state Delegate Meshea Poore of Kanawha County.
Voters will decide 11 seats in the state Legislature representing the Northern Panhandle - nine in the House of Delegates and two in the state Senate - but the fields are already set for November for all but four House seats.
Although much of the attention in West Virginia has been on the U.S. Senate race, Rupp believes it's the state Legislature contests that could have the biggest long-term implications for politics in the state. Republicans hold 47 of 100 House of Delegate seats, picking up 11 of those during the 2012 election, and Republican leaders believe 2014 will be the year the balance of power tips to their side.
"The real story that we need to focus on is the fact that the Republicans can capture the House of Delegates for the first time since 1930," Rupp said.
House of Delegates
In the 3rd District, a two-delegate district, Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, will look to hold onto her seat in a race where an open seat has drawn six other candidates into the fray, thanks to Delegate Ryan Ferns' decision to switch to the GOP and challenge state Sen. Rocky Fitzsimmons, D-Ohio, for his seat.
Two Republicans will emerge from a field of four, including Storch and challengers Chris Elswick, Dolph Santorine and Martin Sheehan to move on to the general election, as will two of three Democrats: Shawn Fluharty, Dave Palmer and Holli Smith.
In the 4th District race, the Republican side of the ticket is already set with Delegate David Evans, R-Marshall, looking to retain his seat and challenger Ron Morris in the mix. There will be a primary to eliminate one of three Democrat candidates: Delegate Mike Ferro, D-Marshall, Dave Hall and David Sidiropolis.
In the 1st District, which covers all of Hancock County and northern Brooke County, Democrat Delegates Randy Swartzmiller and Ronnie Jones will compete against Republicans Mark Zatezalo and former Delegate Pat McGeehan in November. With just two candidates in each party in the race, however, there's nothing to be decided in Tuesday's primary.
The same goes for the 2nd and 5th districts, both single delegate districts where a single Republican is challenging a Democrat incumbent. In the 2nd District, Delegate Phil Diserio, D-Brooke, faces a challenge from Republican Ryan Weld, and in the fifth, Delegate Dave Pethtel, D-Wetzel, will face off against Republican Mary Kay Milliken.
In the 6th District, Delegate William Roger Romine, R-Tyler, is unopposed.
In addition to the Fitzsimmons-Ferns race in the state's 1st Senate District, voters in the 2nd District will choose between state Sen. Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel, and Monongalia County Republican Kent Leonhardt to represent them alongside Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, in Charleston. Neither race features a contested primary, however.
Voters in each Northern Panhandle county will fill one open commission seat as well as three board of education seats. Board of education races, which are non-partisan, will be decided during the May 13 primary election, while only three local counties have contested commission races.
- Hancock County - Two Democrats have filed in the commissioner's race, incumbent Dan Greathouse and challenger Joe Barnabei. In the board of education race, incumbents Laura Greathouse, John Manypenny and Toni Hinerman face a challenge from New Cumberland resident Michelle Chappell.
- Brooke County - Incumbent Commissioner Norma Tarr, a Democrat faces a primary challenge from Stacey "Hukill" Wise of Follansbee. No Republican filed in that race.
- Ohio County - A slate of seven candidates will vie for three Board of Education seats in Ohio County. Christine Carder, Jim Jorden and Shane Mallett all are seeking re-election, challenged by former board member Sam Andy, city of Wheeling Operations Superintendent Tim Birch and Wheeling residents Alex Coogan and David Delk.
- Marshall County - Three Democrats - Mike Eskridge, former Delegate Scott Varner and Dennis "Denny" Wallace - are vying to replace Commissioner Don Mason, who will not seek re-election. Seven filed for the Board of Education race, including incumbents Thomas "Tom" Edward Gilbert Jr., Roger Lewicki and Beth Phillips. They will be challenged by Carl Boso, Duane Miller, Thomas Michael Stalnaker and Chelsea Toth.
- Wetzel County - Four are seeking three Board of Education seats, including incumbents Michael D. Blair and Robert Patterson and newcomers Josh Balcerek and Cindy Culley.
- Tyler County - five are seeking three Board of Education seats: Incumbent Jimmy Wyatt and newcomers Bonnie Henthorn, James Eric Mason, Kevin Roberts and Scott W. Strode.