Attending the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Meeting and Business Summit is always an interesting place to be leading up to a major election.
The event always brings out candidates and current office holders for statewide and legislative seats, either trying to drum up more money for their campaigns, potential endorsements, or just being seen and networking. The summit puts lawmakers and officials face-to-face with industry leaders
From all accounts, this year’s Chamber summit was the biggest crowd yet, or at least the biggest crowd post-COVID. There seemed to be a lot of optimism about how the state is doing and the current economic environment. At least two economic development announcements were made last week, including the re-start of the Pleasants Power Plant.
Other than making the announcements at the start of each day last Wednesday and Thursday, Justice really wasn’t seen much at his resort. To his credit, at least one of those days he had gone into flood-damaged areas in Kanawha County.
Then again, U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va. wasn’t there at all. Of course, he and the Chamber have not been good buddies. The Chamber endorsed former U.S. Rep. David McKinley over Mooney in the 2022 Republican primary for the new 2nd District. Still, seems like someone behind in all the polls ought to hold his nose and come to the summit.
For example, the Chamber and state Sen. Mike Stuart, R-Kanawha, don’t have the best of relationships. But Stuart is running for Attorney General and came to the summit. Because again, it’s a good place to get in front of people and explain why they are the best candidate for this or that.
The Chamber Summit played host to the first event featuring the top four Republican candidates for governor of West Virginia. Sure, they’ve likely been in the same rooms and dinners together multiple times, but this was the first time they were featured all at once.
The event was a forum, not a debate. I do think the format wasn’t ideal, considering it was 40-minutes long and only featured the candidates answering four questions. I think forcing the forum to a limited time frame due to the decision by WSAZ to air it live really unfairly confined the candidates. It’s hard to answer a complicated public policy question – like reversing the state’s population loss – in 90 seconds or so.
I am reluctant to rate the candidates based on winners and losers. I will say that I thought House Judiciary Committee Chairman Moore Capito and Huntington businessman Chris Miller did well. I thought Morrisey performed as expected, giving that I’ve covered him off and on for more than a decade and know what to expect. And Warner seemed to stumble rhetorically.
I would also urge any candidate to tailor their messaging for the audiences they are in front of. This wasn’t a Republican Party Lincoln Day dinner. This was the state’s business community, and while it gets stereotyped as Republican-leaning, many of the attendees have varying degrees of political opinions. I dare say some of the companies in attendance have DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) statements.
Point being: the attendees might not be Democratic Socialists, but they are not knee-jerk anti-woke either. Many of these businesses don’t care about the latest political ideological craze; they just want to make money, give back to their communities, and hire the best-qualified people.
Part of the annual West Virginia Poll was released Friday, showing Capito in the lead for the 2024 Republican primary for governor with 32% of respondents expressing support, followed by Morrisey (23%), Miller (9%), Warner (7%), and 29% of Republican respondents unsure who to support.
As a frequent poll reader, I was a little disappointed. Rex Repass of Research America conducts this poll annually and it usually combines a telephone poll with an online poll component. This year, it was only online. And while the poll includes responses from people in all 55 counties, it’s unclear what those numbers are.
Much like the Orion Strategies poll released a few months ago, I’m not saying the West Virginia Poll is bad. At least one of the candidates (Morrisey) has already called the poll “fake.” It’s not a fake poll at all, but I do think it doesn’t drill down as far as it could.
It has become clearer to me that West Virginia is just a hard state to poll. And good polling is very expensive. Why do you think you don’t see many news outlets in the state do polls? The West Virginia Poll is sponsored by WV MetroNews, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, and this year they added The Health Plan as a sponsor.
In West Virginia, regions matter, especially the Eastern Panhandle. And you can’t poll Berkeley County evenly with Mingo County. The voters are different, their motivations are different, and what drives turnout is different.
However, I do think the West Virginia Poll is right that the governor’s race is a two-man race right now. There is plenty of time for that to change though. The poll continues to show Gov. Jim Justice in a wide lead over U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney for the 2024 U.S. Senate Republican primary consistent with other polls over the last several months.
Notably, the poll shows U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s job approval numbers up, though it also shows a plurality of respondents think Manchin should retire and not seek re-election to the U.S. Senate or a third-party presidential run. It also shows former Republican president Donald Trump at 49% support, though still performing better than current Democratic President Joe Biden.