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One word you’ll hear a lot in governor’s race: ‘conservative’


White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. – Candidates to be West Virginia’s next governor want you to know they are the most conservative.

“I am the get-it-done conservative,” Delegate Moore Capito told a crowd gathered last week at the annual business summit hosted by the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a rival for the Republican nomination, had a different view: “I would argue on this stage there is one proven conservative with a record that’s second to none.”

Secretary of State Mac Warner, yet another candidate for governor, said his top priorities will be education, jobs “and protecting West Virginia’s conservative values.”

Auto dealer Chris Miller emphasized his business experience to say his administration would assess government and scale it back.

In a Republican primary, marketing a conservative view to primary voters is not surprising. But as the months lead closer to election time, the voters are going to have to discern what each candidate means by “conservative.”

Many people are still deciding.

Twenty-six percent of Republican respondents in the most recent MetroNews West Virginia Poll described themselves as “not sure” about the candidates for governor.

Among the candidates, the leader was Capito, the House Judiciary chairman and son of U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, with 32 percent.

Twenty-seven percent favor Morrisey, who has served as Attorney General since 2013. Nine percent favor Miller, an automobile dealer who is the son of Congresswoman Carol Miller. Six percent favor Warner, who has served as Secretary of State since 2017.

Morrisey’s campaign responded to the poll results by, again, touting the candidate’s conservative credibility.

“When voters contrast the only proven conservative candidate in this race with the darling of the liberal establishment, the proven conservative will win hands down,” the campaign stated. “Patrick Morrisey is the only proven conservative running for Governor and is well positioned to defeat the liberal establishment candidate.”

There’s good reason to make that conservative pitch over and over.

Of the Republicans who responded to the West Virginia Poll, almost 61 percent said they consider themselves to be conservative.

The poll further broke that down. Of that overall group, almost 32 percent called themselves somewhat conservative while almost 29 percent self-identified as very conservative.

Examining preferences in the governor’s race specifically among poll respondents who identify as conservatives, Morrisey and Capito broke even with just over 26 percent. Miller got 4.6 percent of the self-identified conservatives, and Warner got 2.3 percent.

Among the self-identified conservatives an even larger percentage described themselves as “not sure” what candidate they favor, 40.8 percent.

So a lot of West Virginia conservatives remain up for grabs, and that’s a central reason the message “conservative” will be used over and over and over again.

Last week’s forum at the business summit was a first and prominent opportunity for four leading Republican candidates to make their introductions to an influential crowd. Each made a pitch as a conservative choice, but in different ways.

Morrisey, who first took office as Attorney General in 2013, described a track record of fighting against government overreach. Of the eight times the word conservative was uttered during the 40-minute event, Morrisey tallied five.

“For all the promises that are going to be made by all the candidates up here,” Morrisey said, “I would argue you have to go with the person who’s been there, who’s done that, who’s proven his conservative bona fides.” .

His message aspired toward eliminating the state income tax and broadening West Virginia’s school choice options like charter schools and the Hope Scholarship. Part of his response to a question about improving West Virginia’s public school test scores veered into whether athletes should be allowed to participate on sports teams reflecting their gender identity.

“West Virginia needs a proven conservative,” Morrisey concluded, “with a record that’s second to none to face down the challenges that are coming after us from the Washington elite and the political left. We need someone who’s not only battle tested but gone into the arena and won time after time.”

Capito, who has represented Kanawha County in the Legislature since 2017, described his work with the Republican majority in the House of Delegates “whether it was building the first Republican supermajority or delivering as judiciary chair in the most pro growth conservative agenda the state has ever seen. I always execute and deliver.”

Warner emphasized his background in the U.S. Army, where he served in the Judge Advocate General Corps. He also worked as a contractor with the U.S. State Department in Afghanistan. He said he’s the only veteran in the race, and described leadership skills.

“As governor, I will be the state’s chief executive officer to lead our state agencies. I will be the commander in chief of the National Guard, and along with my wife, we will be the face representing the state of West Virginia to the nation and to the world,” Warner said.

“I have been a member of three professions — the military, the legal profession and the teaching profession that shows the versatility and the experience that I bring to the office.”

Miller translated his business experience to how he would approach government. He, too, suggested West Virginia should aim to eliminate its income tax.

“If I ran my businesses the way the government spends our tax dollars I’d be broke,” he said. “Right now our state faces a major problem. Our number one export is not coal. It’s not natural gas. It’s not our lumber. Our number one export is our educated kids. And we have to create an economy that thrives to prevent that from happening any further. We need to run state government more like a business.

“We need to audit every single dime. We need to treat our taxpayers like customers with a single-minded focus on making their lives better.”

Miller, who has spoken on stage to the Conservative Political Action Conference and also got into the ring for a Rough-N-Rowdy Brawl, told the Chamber of Commerce crowd gathered at the elite Greenbrier Resort that it’s time to shake up politics.

“We’ve got to break up the good ole boy system that’s been running our state for far too long,” he said.


Story by Brad McElhinny, WV Metro News



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