The 2020 cycle saw the party turn in century-plus worst showings for six statewide offices

The steep and swift decline of the Democratic Party in West Virginia rivals perhaps that of any other state in the 21st Century.

Republicans are strongly poised to hold every statewide executive office come January for the first time since the Election of 1928.

And there is little evidence to suggest Democrats are ready to reverse that trend anytime soon in a state where the party has seen its advantage in state legislative seats go from majority status in both chambers after the 2012 elections to holding just 14 of 134 seats one decade later.

The question is will the Democrats hit any new lows on the ballot this November?

For starters, Democrats will not field a nominee for Treasurer for the first time since at least the 1860s.

In the gubernatorial race, Huntington Mayor Steve Williams needs to best the 30.2 percent turned in by Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango in 2020 – the worst performance by a Democratic nominee for governor in state history.

Democratic nominees for governor failed to reach the 40 percent mark in only one other cycle: in 1920, Charleston attorney Arthur Koontz received 36.3 percent as state Public Service Commissioner Ephraim Morgan won the race with a plurality of the vote.

Democrats also hit rock bottom in elections to the U.S. Senate in 2020, with Coal City office manager and bookkeeper Paula Jean Swearengin winning just 27.0 percent against Senator Shelley Moore Capito. Swearengin fell 7.5 points off the previous worst showing by a Democrat across the 40 general and special elections held for the office since 1916.

The previous record was also set against Capito when she won Jay Rockefeller’s open seat race in 2014 and Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant received just 34.5 percent. Every other Democratic U.S. Senate nominee in state history had won at least 44 percent of the vote.

Joe Biden will also need to claw his way to stay out of the basement in November’s presidential race against Donald Trump.

Hillary Clinton currently owns the record for the worst showing by a Democratic presidential nominee in West Virginia with the 26.4 percent she gathered against Trump in 2016.

But Biden fared only slightly better in 2020 with 29.7 percent and is not expected to be in a stronger position this cycle.

Other Democrats who failed to reach the 40 percent mark over the decades were George McClellan in 1864 (31.8 percent), George McGovern in 1972 (36.4 percent), and Barack Obama in 2012 (35.5 percent).

Over the last 110+ years, Democratic nominees have fallen short of the 40 percent mark just four times across the other five statewide executive offices on the ballot in 2024:

  • Auditor: State government accountant Mary Ann Claytor in 2016 (34.6 percent) and 2020 (33.0 percent)
  • Attorney General: Beckley attorney Sam Petsonk in 2020 (36.2 percent)
  • Agriculture Commissioner: State Senator Bob Each in 2020 (35.0 percent)

Claytor is again the Democratic nominee for Auditor in 2024.

In addition to century-plus lows set in elections for Governor, Auditor, Attorney General, Agricultural Commissioner, and U.S. Senator in 2020, six-term Treasurer John Perdue’s 43.7 percent four years ago was the worst showing by a Democrat for that office since Sutton banker A.C. Herold in 1920 (43.5 percent).

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2 Comments

  1. Connor Cobb on June 11, 2024 at 9:25 pm

    Julie Fedorchak has won the republican primary for ND AT-AL congressional district which means that she will be the 1st woman ever elected to the house from ND.
    Kelly Armstrong will be the 1st sitting congressman elected ND governor since Arthur Link way back in 1972 if I’m not mistaken and the 1st sitting congressman elected governor of any state since Greg Gianforte of MT in 2020. I know you’ve done articles on sitting governors running for senate are far more common than sitting senators running for governor but I’m curious as to how often a sitting governor is elected to the us house vs a sitting congressman being elected governor?

    • Geoff Gamble on June 13, 2024 at 8:18 am

      Many, many more incumbent or ex-House members have bid for state governor than the reverse. As for a jump from a state capital to HR, only a handful have even tried!

      The only fairly recent cases that come to mind where a governor – sitting or former – from a state with *more than a single (at-large) seat* to win a House seat are Democrats Charlie Crist of FL and Joseph Brennan of ME (1987-1991).

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