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McArdle, Santorine to challenge each other for West Virginia Republican Party leadership

CHARLESTON — Two Ohio County members of the West Virginia Republican Executive Committee have thrown their hats in the ring to be its next chair in elections next month even as they fight each other in court.

Ohio County Republican Executive Committee Chairwoman Elgine McArdle announced Monday morning she and Putnam County Republican Executive Committee Chairman Tony Hodge are running as co-chairs of the West Virginia Republican Executive Committee.

Dolph Santorine, a member of the WVREC representing the 1st Senatorial District, announced his intentions to seek the state party chairmanship. Lizabeth Gregg-Badt, chairwoman of the Hancock County Republican Executive Committee, is running with Santorine as co-chair.

Newly elected members of the WVREC will meet in Charleston on July 30 to elect new state party leadership for the next four years. Chairman Mark Harris, elected in March 2021 to serve the remainder of former chair Melody Potter’s term, will decline to seek a full four-year term.

Santorine and McArdle are locked in a legal battle after McArdle refused to seat Santorine after he won election to the Ohio County REC in May. Santorine sought election to the county party committee for the 2nd Magisterial District. Due to an error by the county, Santorine was placed in the 1st District.

Ohio County officials acknowledged their error and certified the 2nd District election for Santorine, but the county party determined that it could not seat him for that district and encouraged him to submit his name for an appointment for an available seat for the 1st District. Santorine refused and filed suit in Ohio County Circuit Court, asking the court to mandate that the county party committee seat him.

Santorine is a Wheeling-based businessman, political organizer and previous candidate for House of Delegates. In a statement Monday, Santorine said he wants to improve the relationships between county parties and the state party.

“We have put together a team with the will and the drive to set a consistent direction and goals, and take the party to the next level,” Santorine said. “The way the State Party interacts with the county committees needs to change. While the original goal of getting Republicans elected remains in the forefront, a much more sophisticated approach is needed today and in the future.”

“Dolph is uniquely qualified to lead the party,” Gregg-Baldt said. “Successfully running the State Party requires a broader set of skills, and Dolph has those from his business career. This is about strengthening the grassroots, and we know it’s the foundation upon which all Republican successes have been built in West Virginia. We also bring consistency, and will each complete the full term of elected office.”

McArdle and Hodge are running as a unity and restoration ticket, bringing together the northern and southern regions of West Virginia and working to restore the confidence of party faithful in the state party going into the November midterm elections and the 2024 elections.

“Our campaign for the West Virginia Republican Party leadership is about restoration,” McArdle said in a statement. “We aim to restore confidence, competence, and respect to the state party.”

“Our respective residences within the Northern and Southern portions of West Virginia creates a unique and balanced ticket providing accessibility of leadership throughout the state,” Hodge said. “We look forward to earning the trust of the State Executive Committee as we pursue plans to elevate the WVGOP to a higher level.”

McArdle, a Wheeling-based attorney, has served on the WVREC since 2005 and is a past chair of the REC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee. She also has been a delegate to the Republican National Convention, both as a 2008 delegate and an alternate delegate in 2020. If elected as co-chair next month, McArdle would be the second woman to lead the WVREC after Potter and the first Asian American chair.

“With so many issues facing our state and country, West Virginia Republicans deserve State Party leadership that will work diligently to recruit candidates work with our elected Republican leadership, maintain our gains, and build the political infrastructure so desperately needed to not only make West Virginia a truly Republican majority state, but also to become a true governing party for West Virginia,” McArdle said.

Hodge, a Hurricane-based political organizer and private pilot, is the current chairman of the state party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee. He was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 2020 and is a past president of the Putnam County Republican Club.

“I am excited to join this ticket with my friend Elgine,” Hodge said. “West Virginia deserve a strong and professional Republican Party. Elgine and I will work diligently to create a cohesive Republican Party that works closely with our elected officials and our grassroots leaders to develop policy, pass legislation, and ensure we recruit Republican candidates who align with the values of the Republican Party.”

Harris announced last week he will not seek a new term as chair after state party Executive Director John Findlay and unnamed members of the state party leadership called on Harris to resign over unnamed instances of alleged inappropriate behavior. Harris has denied all claims of wrongdoing and said he will not resign prior to next month’s WVREC meeting.

Harris was elected as chairman last year, besting former state party chairman Conrad Lucas during a March 2021 party meeting at the Greenbrier Resort after two close votes were held due to confusion over the first vote. Elgine abstained from both votes during that meeting.

Santorine said it is time for some stability in leadership within the state Republican Party after the last several years. He believes that internal party drama spilling out into the public is a turnoff for potential candidates.

“There has been unnecessary turnover in recent years with the party leadership,” Santorine said. “Since becoming the majority party in 2014, and then a supermajority in 2020, the West Virginia Republican Party must change to attract, retain, and help elect top quality candidates. That type of candidate won’t tolerate drama within our own ranks. Our team understands this, and can prepare the party for both short- and long-term success.”

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

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