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West Virginia legislative primaries see upsets, close races

The setting sun reflects off the golden dome of the State Capitol Building in Charleston Tuesday evening as polls closed across the state. (Photo by Steven Allen Adams )

CHARLESTON — While most eyes were on the Republican primary in the new 2nd Congressional District Tuesday night, a number of elected and appointed members of the West Virginia Legislature won’t be returning to the statehouse next year while some races remain too close to call.

Half of the state Senate’s 34 seats are up for election this year along with 100 House of Delegates seats. The 2022 elections mark the first election since redistricting last October and the first election for the House’s new single-member districts.

For the Democratic and Republican primaries Tuesday, 36 incumbents faced a contested election in 33 state legislative districts.

Five out of the 17 senatorial districts had races where an elected or appointed incumbent faced a primary challenger while 28 out of 100 House districts, or 31 delegates, had a contested primary where an incumbent was challenged. In two cases, an incumbent faces another incumbent, and in one race two incumbents in separate party primaries will face each other in November.

In the state Senate, former Hancock County Delegate Randy Swartzmiller defeated Sen. Owens Brown in the 1st Senatorial District Democratic primary in Hancock, Brooke, Ohio and part of Marshall counties. Swartzmiller carried the Democratic primary ballot with 3,520 votes, leading Brown 53.3 percent to 46.7 percent.

Brown was appointed to fill the remainder of the term of William Ihlenfeld, who was appointed for a second time as the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia. Brown was a former leader of the West Virginia NAACP and was the only black lawmaker in the Senate. Swartzmiller will face Republican Laura Wakim Chapman in November.

The remaining incumbent senators on the ballot Tuesday were able to win victories over challengers. Sen. Michael Azinger defeated Wood County Delegate John Kelly in the 3rd District 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent, leading by 390 votes. Azinger will face Democrat Jody Murphy, a former gubernatorial candidate, in November.

Wayne County Sen. Mark Maynard defeated two Republican challengers in the 6th District. Maynard will face Democratic opponent Tiffany Clemins. Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, won his primary by an overwhelming majority in the 17th District and will face Democratic opponent Samuel Wood.

Raleigh County Sen. Rollan Roberts held off a challenge from Raleigh County Delegate Mick Bates in the 9th Senatorial District 51.6 percent to 48.4 percent, leading by 289 votes. Bates switched his party registration last year from Democrat to Republican after losing an election as House Minority Leader to Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha. Bates also ran the committee that recruited Democratic candidates for the House in 2020, the year Republicans took more seats and secured a supermajority.

In the House, 10 incumbents will not be returning in 2022 unless vote canvassing next week flips the results in the closer races.

In the Democratic primary, freshman one-term Wayne County Delegate Ric Griffith defeated senior Cabell County Delegate Chad Lovejoy in the 27th District. Lovejoy was first elected to the House in 2016 and served as the minority chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Griffith is a pharmacist and former mayor of Kenova. Griffith will face Republican Jeff Maynard in November.

In the Republican primary, long-time Hampshire County Delegate Ruth Rowan lost to Darren Thorne 51.2 percent to 48.8 percent in the 89th District, losing by 44 votes. A retired teacher, Rowan has served in the House since first elected in 2004. She is the chairwoman of the House Committee on Senior, Children, and Family Issues.

Two Wood County House members are losing by too-close-to-call margins. Freshman Delegate Roger Conley is losing his re-election by eight votes in the Republican primary for the 11th District. Businessman Bob Fehrenbacher leads Conley 1,146 to 1,238. The winner will face Democratic opponent Harry Dietzler.

In the 14th District, freshman Delegate Shannon Kimes is losing by 31 votes in his Republican primary. Dave Foggin leads Kimes 37.2 percent to 35.8 percent, with Kimes receiving 848 votes and Foggin receiving 817 votes. Kevin Siers came in third with 616 votes. The winner will face Democratic opponent Jim Marion.

One vote stands between Freshman Wayne County Republican Del. Josh Booth from retaining his House seat. Booth lost to Mark Ross in the 28th District Republican primary, with Ross receiving 688 votes to Booth’s 687 votes. The winner faces no Democratic Party opposition on the ballot.

Booth was appointed by Gov. Jim Justice in 2021 to replace former delegate Derrick Evans who pleaded guilty to felony charges for his part in attacking the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6, 2021, to stop the certification of the 2020 election for President Joe Biden. Sentencing for Evans is scheduled for June 22.

Five-term Harrison County Delegate Danny Hamrick lost to Keith Marple 882 to 761 in the 69th District Republican primary. Hamrick has been plagued by negative headlines over the last several years after resigning as chairman of the House Education Committee in 2019 after admitting to an inappropriate relationship with a staff member. Marple will face Democratic opponent Ron Watson.

Freshman Mason County Republican Delegate Johnnie Wamsley lost re-election to former Mason County delegate Jim Butler in the 18th District primary. Butler carried 951 votes to Wamsley’s 723 votes. In the 59th District making up parts of Cross Lanes and Nitro in Kanawha County, two-term Republican Delegate Diana Graves lost to Andy Shamblin by more than 100 votes, winning 709 to 604. Shamblin will face Democratic opponent Rusty Williams.

Marion County Delegate Guy Ward lost to Mike DeVault 890 votes to 746 votes in the 74th District Republican primary. Ward served two separate terms, one starting in 2017 and one starting in 2021. DeVault will face Democratic opponent John Palmer. In a freshman-on-freshman battle in Berkeley County, Delegate George Miller defeated Ken Reed 1,305 to 952 in the 90th District Republican primary. Miller has no Democratic opposition on the ballot.

In Kanawha County’s 56th District covering parts of Charleston, South Charleston, and St. Albans, two freshmen incumbents with separate party primaries will face each other in the November general election. Del. Kayla Young, D-Kanawha, defeated Devin Casey 994 to 367; and Delegate Larry Pack, R-Kanawha, defeated Richard Boggess 824 to 380.

According to unofficial turnout numbers provided by the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office, 258,077 voters came out and voted Tuesday, through the two-week early voting period, and by received absentee mail-in ballots, representing 22.7 percent voter turnout.

Wednesday was the last day for county clerks to accept mail-in ballots with no postmark, while Monday is the deadline for postmarked ballots. County commissions in all 55 counties will meet next week to canvas the votes — when some of the closer races will be decided — and certify the primary election.

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com.

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