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Getting Trump Voters to Back Cole

Donald Trump’s supporters may be the key to deciding whether Republican Bill Cole or Democrat Jim Justice is West Virginia’s next governor.

Cole needs to convince people planning to vote for Trump on Tuesday to vote for him, too.

Tipping the balance in favor of Cole may be as simple as persuading registered Republicans not to leave their polling places before they have voted for him as well as Trump.

About 75,000 people who cast ballots in the May primary election for West Virginia Republicans voted for Trump, then went home, a GOP strategist told me a few days ago. They didn’t vote in any other race on their ballots.

I think the strategist’s numbers are wrong, based on primary election returns for president and several other offices.

Still, it does appear a substantial number of Republican voters — between 35,000 and 36,000 — cast votes only in the race for the presidential nomination. Not all of them voted for Trump.

If those people do the same thing Tuesday (or have during early voting), it could be a big problem for Cole. He needs those votes.

How significant are that many votes? Consider that in the last five Mountain State elections for governor, the margin of victory was around that number. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin beat Bill Maloney by 30,391 votes in 2012, Bob Wise triumphed over Cecil Underwood by 18,897 votes in 2000, and Underwood defeated Charlotte Pritt by 36,648 votes in 1996.

In May, Trump received 204,061 votes in the Republican primary. Cole netted just 161,127, though he was unopposed. Other down-ballot offices under the presidential line received votes in about the same totals as for governor. So, nearly 49,000 people who voted for Trump in the presidential races did not do so for Cole (but may have voted for a few other down-ballot candidates).

Something entirely different happened in the Democrat primary. As we reported in May, Bernie Sanders trounced Hillary Clinton in West Virginia. He received 124,700 of the votes to her 86,914. All totaled, 242,539 Mountain State resident voted in the Democrat primary for president.

But 258,350 cast ballots for one of the three contenders for the nomination for governor (Justice, state Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler and former U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin).

I suspect that had to do with the intense dislike many West Virginians have for Clinton. A substantial number of them may have decided not to vote at all in the presidential primary.

Trump will win going away in West Virginia. If everyone who votes for him also casts a ballot for the GOP candidate for governor, Cole wins.

That isn’t going to happen. With the choice down basically to Clinton or Trump, many Democrats will back the Republican. Unfortunately, Cole can’t count on their votes because they will not be as much pro-Trump as anti-Clinton. If and when they get down to the governor’s race, these Democrats may decide voting for one Republican was enough.

So Cole really needs to pick up those 35,000 or so Republicans who voted only in the presidential primary. He has to convince them that it isn’t enough to send The Donald to Washington. They need a Republican at the state capital, too.

In one of those twists of irony that make history fascinating, West Virginia Republicans may have shot themselves in the foot regarding votes for both Trump and Cole.

For decades, straight-ticket voting was allowed here. A voter could use one checked box, pull of the lever of tap on a touch screen to vote for all of a party’s candidates. Individual votes weren’t needed.

That served Democrats well, and they refused to change the system. But when the GOP took control of both houses of the Legislature in 2015, they were successful in banning the practice.

So this Tuesday, Trump supporters who in the past might have voted straight tickets — and helped Cole — won’t be allowed to do so.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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