By John Celock
The richest man in West Virginia leads in the Democratic field with under a week to go before the primary.
A Public Policy Poll released earlier this week shows coal and resort executive Jim Justice leading in the Democratic Primary with 37 percent with 23 percent for former U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and 19 percent for state Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler. The poll did find however that 21 percent of voters are still undecided. The poll also showed Justice leading state Senate President Bill Cole, the presumptive Republican nominee, 41 percent to 35 percent in a general election matchup. The poll showed that Goodwin and Kessler both trail Cole. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) is term-limited.
The West Virginia governor’s race has been one of the most closely watched in the country with Democrats seeking to continue their grip on the governor’s mansion. Since 1933 only two Republicans – Cecil Underwood and Arch Moore – have held the governorship. Underwood was governor from 1957 to 1961 and from 1997 to 2001, while Moore held the governorship from 1969 to 1977 and again from 1985 to 1989. At the same time, Republicans have gained control of the state’s three U.S. House seats and the attorney general and agriculture commissioner offices and the state Legislature. In addition, Moore’s daughter, Republican Shelley Moore Capito, is one of the state’s U.S. senators.
Justice runs his family’s coal company, which owns mines in five states, and he bought the legendary Greenbrier resort in West Virginia in 2009, saving the resort from bankruptcy. He has focused his campaign on his business background.
Goodwin hails from one of the most powerful families in West Virginia Democratic politics. His father is Federal Judge Joseph Goodwin and his mother is longtime state Education and the Arts Secretary Kay Goodwin. His wife, Amy, is the state tourism commissioner and was spokeswoman for Tomblin and for former Gov. Bob Wise (D). Goodwin’s cousin, Carte Goodwin, was briefly a U.S. senator in 2010 following the death of former Sen. Robert Byrd (D).
Kessler is a former state Senate president and unsuccessfully sought the governorship in a 2011 special election.
The West Virginia governorship had been considered a likely Republican pick-up following U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D) decision not to seek a return to the governor’s mansion. Manchin was the state’s chief executive from 2005 to 2010, when he was elected to the Senate.