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Decision Time Is Tuesday in West Virginia

It is the eve of the 2022 party primaries, and I can only imagine you are getting tired of me writing about the 2nd Congressional District Republican race between Reps. David McKinley and Alex Mooney.

Don’t worry, the whole thing is almost over. But it is the biggest race on the ballot this election. The winner is likely going to have an easy time in November. Can you name the Democrats in the 2nd District primary? I can’t either, not without looking.

I imagine you’re just plain tired of the race completely, considering the onslaught of TV ads, mailers, Facebook ads and on and on. But all the ads, negative or not, must be moving the needle because the poll numbers going into Tuesday show some real momentum for Mooney.

Last week, I was sent internal poll numbers from the Mooney campaign that showed 50% support for Mooney and 30 percent support for McKinley, up from 42 percent for Mooney and 31 percent for McKinley on April 5. As a reporter, it’s always good to take internal polling with a grain of salt. Polling firms are not in the market of putting out bad polls, but the way things are asked can certainly skew results sometimes.

But results released Friday by Research America for the WV MetroNews West Virginia Poll largely confirms the Mooney internal poll. According to the West Virginia Poll, Mooney has 48 percent support among Republicans and unaffiliated voters, McKinley has 33 percent support, and the three other Republicans (yes, there are three other Republicans, but it sure doesn’t seem like they did much of anything) had a combined 6 percent. That leaves 13 percent of the 350 respondents undecided.

Mooney also beats McKinley on overall approval ratings, with Mooney getting 57 percent approval and McKinley getting 46 percent. To put that into perspective, Gov. Jim Justice had the highest approval rating of 72 percent and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, had 67 percent — both of whom endorsed McKinley over Mooney. President Joe Biden, by the way, had an approval rating of 9 percent among Republican and unaffiliated voters in the 2nd District.

Both McKinley and Mooney have enthusiasm among voters in their old districts, but Mooney has larger numbers to draw from in the current 2nd District, particularly among conservative voters in Berkeley and Jefferson counties. It’s possible that Mooney’s endorsement by former president Donald Trump is helping Mooney in a way that Trump’s endorsement of Patrick Morrisey in the 2018 election against Manchin did not help.

Morrisey lost that election by three points in 2018, even with Trump visiting the state three times and campaigning with Morrisey. All Trump has done for Mooney is release two statements in six months and do a phone call into a tele-rally. Maybe distance makes the heart grow fonder?

The only scoreboard that matters is the one at the end of the day Tuesday once polls close and votes come in. We’ll see how things shake out.

***

Last week I talked about the new 8th Senatorial District Republican primary race and the issues of the qualifications of Roane County businesswoman Andrea Kiessling to be on the ballot.

Since then, there has been a circuit court case brought by a voter in the district challenging her residency. Looking at the ruling by a Kanawha County judge obtained by WV MetroNews Statewide Correspondent Brad McElhinny, it sure looks like Kiessling has only returned to West Virginia in the last 1 1/2 years.

In case you forgot, the state Constitution requires a candidate for office to be a resident of the state for five years and a resident of the district for at least one year. Prior to 2021, Kiessling resided in North Carolina, paid property taxes there, and even voted there over multiple years including the 2020 general election. She didn’t even register to vote in West Virginia until the day she filed for office, having let her earlier state voter registration go dark after moving a decade ago.

The judge agreed that Kiessling didn’t meet the five-year state residency requirement, ordered all votes already cast for her not to count, and that signage be posted in the polling places in the district that she is ineligible. Kiessling has appealed to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and asked for a stay, a decision on which could come down as I’m writing this column Friday.

Kiessling campaign consultant Greg Thomas, the Senate Republican campaign committee chairman Eric Tarr, and Senate President Craig Blair have all blasted the Kanawha County decision. It’s apparent they don’t want to see a situation where former Putnam County delegate Joshua Higginbotham wins the Republican primary.

They either want Kiessling to prevail or they would rather see her disqualified after the primary and get the Republican district senatorial committee to appoint a Republican that is not Higginbotham. Regardless of those two outcomes, the Republican consultants still get paid but Kiessling has her time wasted. If the Kanawha County decision is upheld and Higginbotham gets the most votes, it’s bad news for Thomas/Tarr/Blair.

***

The second episode of my new West Virginia news and politics podcast, Mountain State Views, dropped last week. I talked with Matt Lewis, a senior columnist at The Daily Beast who has prior experience working on Mooney’s Maryland statehouse campaigns. We also talked about the leaked U.S. Supreme Court opinion dealing with abortion and other topics.

You can subscribe to Mountain State Views on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, and most major podcast platforms.

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