CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Republicans expanded their majorities in the state legislature after taking at least 10 seats from Democrats in Tuesday’s election.
Enthusiasm for President Donald Trump at the top of the ticket helped solidify the Republican takeover of West Virginia politics in a state where labor-backed Democrats once reigned. Republican Gov. Jim Justice won re-election and the party swept top races, making inroads into once-blue regions.
Seven Republicans won seats in the House of Delegates currently held by Democrats and one conservative independent, according to an Associated Press review. The AP has not called several close races, some of which show Democratic incumbents trailing. In the upper chamber, the GOP picked up three seats.
“We were surprised. We thought we might win, but it was all up in the air,” said Josh Holstein, a 19-year-old firsttime candidate for delegate who upset a Democrat in Boone County, once rich with coal jobs and Democratic labor support.
He and other Republicans credit President Donald Trump’s enormous popularity in the state for driving up turnout to lift candidates down the ballot. With 90% of expected ballots counted, Trump already had 50,000 more votes compared to his final finish four years ago.
It was “probably the biggest reason” for the widescale victories, Holstein said. His district backed him by 9 percentage points four years after the Democratic incumbent won in a landslide.
Republican state Del. John Mandt, who had resigned in October over homophobic messages attributed to him online, was in a tight race to reclaim his seat. He had a 68-vote lead for third place in a district where voters pick three delegates to send to the statehouse in Charleston.
Republican State Sen. Mike Maroney won reelection after he was charged with soliciting a prostitute in August 2019. He continued to serve in office and as chairman of the Senate committee on health and human resources after turning himself in. He will represent Marshall County for a second four-year term.
Democrats were trailing in several other contests, including races in which voters can choose more than one candidate. In a pick-four race for the House of Delegates in District 48, Republican candidates led in the top four. The district is currently represented by three Republicans and one Democrat.
The spokesman for West Virginia’s secretary of state, Mike Queen, declared “historic voter turnout” in the state after unofficial figures showed 793,000 ballots were cast, nearly 65,500 more votes than in 2016.
In the House of Delegates, the GOP already commands a 58-41 advantage, with one independent, over Democrats. Republicans had a 20-14 majority in the Senate going into Election Day.
Republican House Speaker Roger Hanshaw said in a statement Tuesday night that the results were a “solid affirmation that West Virginians believe the bold, conservative leadership and ideas put forward by Republican members … are the best path forward for our state.”
Both chambers of the legislature are set to convene on Jan. 8, 2020, for a sixty-day period.