By John Celock
A 38-year-old Army reservist backed by top national Democrats was defeated in a congressional primary Tuesday, leading a mixed day for young candidates in West Virginia.
Cory Simpson, an Army Reserve major recruited by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was narrowly defeated by former state Del. Mark Hunt in a Democratic primary to face U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney (R) in November. The race pitted the well-funded Simpson, who raised others in the five-candidate field, against Hunt, who had strong backing from organized labor.
Hunt pulled 29 percent compared to 26.2 percent for Simpson. Simpson had been designated an “emerging” candidate by the DCCC, a designation which gave him access to a national donor base for his campaign and signaled the intentions of national Democrats to invest in the general election if Simpson was the party’s nominee.
Simpson was recruited in to the race, partially on the basis of his background in the Army, which he joined following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Simpson, a West Virginia native, relocated to the state from the Washington, D.C. suburb of Silver Spring, Md. in order to seek the congressional seat. Mooney had moved to West Virginia from Maryland to run for the seat in 2014. Mooney, a former Maryland state senator, had served as chairman of the Maryland Republican Party prior to moving to West Virginia to run for Congress. Mooney had also unsuccessfully sought a seat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives while an undergraduate at Dartmouth College.
Other young candidates had a mixed bag on Tuesday night in West Virginia. Former state Administration Secretary Jason Pizatella, 33, was narrowly defeated in the Democratic primary for state auditor by Mary Ann Claytor, a former employee of the auditor’s office. Claytor received 39 percent compared to 38 percent for Pizatella and 23 percent for Robin Righter, another former employee of the auditor’s office. Claytor will face state Del. J.B. McCuskey, a 34-year-old Republican, in the general election.
McCuskey was elected to the state House of Delegates in 2012 and serves as the insurance chairman of the House Banking and Insurance Committee. His father, John McCuskey, was a young elected official, being elected to the state House while a law student in 1972. John McCuskey also served from 1985 to 1988 as the state finance and administration commissioner and was a justice of the state Supreme Court in 1998.
State Auditor Glen Gainer III (D), who has held the job since 1993, announced earlier this year that he would not seek a seventh term and is stepping down this month to become president of the National White Collar Crime Center. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) has not picked a state auditor to complete Gainer’s term. Gainer succeeded his father, Glen Gainer Jr. (D), who stepped down in 1993 after 16 years in office. Denzil Gainer, the current auditor’s first cousin, was the state auditor from 1961 until his death in 1972.
In the state’s second congressional district, 31-year-old Democrat Matt Detch is the party’s nominee to face U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins (R). Detch is a former officer in the Uniformed Division of the U.S. Secret Service and currently manages a bar in Lewisburg. Jenkins, a former state legislator, was first elected to Congress in 2014, unseating U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, the last Democrat to represent the state in the U.S. House.