Stereotypes: West Virginia voters defy pundits again

A lesson should have been learned by politicians — and political analysts — who thought they knew everything about West Virginians in the lead up to last week’s primary election here. They do not.

Political arrogance, snark, belittling or downright nasty activity on social media … plenty of know-it-alls both inside and outside the state were certain Mountain State residents would fall for it. In fact, they believed that because many in West Virginia support a president who has been known to engage in similar antics, any candidate demonstrating such behavior would get a free pass.

What happened was a surprise then, to many who thought they could see the writing on the wall.

Take state Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, for example. He was certain his stance against striking teachers — complaining they were holding students “hostage,” etc. — would do him no damage in the Republican primary. He made an assumption based on what he thought he knew about politics-as-usual in West Virginia:

“I can’t say that it will have zero effect, but I don’t think it’ll have any significant effect because, more often than not, (teachers) probably weren’t voting on the Republican side of the aisle anyways,” he said in March.

He then poked the bear with snide tweets on Election Day, essentially daring folks to vote against him. One tweet read “Could be a lot of hanging chads tonight. Most of Bill’s supporters have never seen a Republican ballot.”

Whoops. It turned out there were more — 2,038 more — supporters of Del. Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, than of Karnes.

U.S. Senate candidate Don Blankenship also appeared to be following what he had likely been advised was the Trump template. In fact, he was at one point labeled “Trumpier than Trump.” Talking heads across the country were certain a large number of West Virginians would support Blankenship because of it. He received only about 20 percent of the vote, and was beaten soundly by state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who will go on to face Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., in November.

Maybe this will be a humbling experience for those still out on the campaign trail until November. Maybe the clear evidence that West Virginia voters have minds of their own, do not always follow party stereotypes, and put some thought into the character of the person they would like to see in office will stick with them.

We can only hope.

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