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Republicans oust Tennant, Helmick from WV offices

Charleston Gazette-Mail photo by Christian Tyler Randolph  Incumbent Secretary of State Natalie Tennant answers questions during an interview at the Capitol on election night.
Charleston Gazette-Mail photo by Christian Tyler Randolph
Incumbent Secretary of State Natalie Tennant answers questions during an interview at the Capitol on election night.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia voters Tuesday ousted two Democratic incumbents from statewide offices, including the well-known secretary of state and put the statewide office of auditor into Republican hands for the first time since 1928 — but re-elected the incumbent Democratic treasurer.

The Associated Press called the close secretary of state race in favor of Andrew “Mac” Warner, of Monongalia County, near midnight Tuesday. Incumbent Democrat Natalie Tennant, of Charleston, was seeking a third, four-year term in the office after losing her 2014 U.S. Senate race against Republican Shelley Moore Capito.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, The Associated Press had Warner at 328,372 votes, or 49 percent of the vote, Tennant at 316,907, or 47 percent, and Libertarian John Buckley, a retired Hardy County lawyer, at 31,380 votes, or 5 percent.

Warner, an Army veteran, was a challenger with a strong Republican pedigree in his family who also previously sought national office. Warner ran for Congress in 2010 in West Virginia’s northernmost district, losing a six-way Republican primary to David McKinley, who would go on to win the seat.

Warner couldn’t be reached Tuesday.

As of the latest campaign finance filings, Tennant had raised less than half of what Warner raised throughout the entire 2016 election cycle. Tennant had raised about $95,000 and spent $54,000 as of late last month, while Warner had raised about $221,000 and spent about $98,000.

“I really haven’t analyzed the cause of it yet, I’m really trying to absorb it right now,” Tennant said when asked why she thought she lost. “I’m obviously disappointed and disappointed because of the incredible work that’s been done here in the secretary of state’s office, in tangibly moving the office forward to the 21st century, with our business services and our modernizing of elections and making real cuts and savings for taxpayers.”

Also with 99 percent of precincts reporting, the AP called the auditor’s race in favor of John “J.B.” McCuskey, a Kanawha County Republican who has represented the 35th district in the House of Delegates for two terms. The AP also determined that state Senator Kent Leonhardt, R-Monongalia, had defeated Democrat Walt Helmick in their re-match for state agriculture commissioner, after Helmick defeated Leonhardt for the office in 2012.

John Perdue, the Democrat who has held the treasurer’s office for 20 years, fended off Republican challenger Ann Urling, a Charleston banker.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting McCuskey got 377,194 votes, or 58 percent, compared to Claytor’s 223,533, or 35 percent. Libertarian Brenton Ricketts, of Jefferson County, got 45,007, 7 percent of the vote.

McCuskey told a crowd at Charleston’s Embassy Suites hotel Tuesday night that state government needs to start respecting taxpayer dollars the same way it respects the people that pay them.

“We’re going to ensure that this state is run properly and legally and ethically,” McCuskey said. “You can count on these people who are elected to make sure that that happens, because West Virginia deserves the very best politicians and leaders under that dome, and that’s what you guys have gotten.”

As of the latest finance filings, McCuskey had raised $171,000, about five time’s Claytor’s $35,000. Claytor had spent about $19,000 as of late last month, compared to McCuskey’s $166,000 in spending.

 In May’s primary, Claytor pulled out a surprise win against fellow Democrat Jason Pizatella, who was favored by powerful Democrats including former auditor Glen Gainer, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin. Claytor won nearly 20,000 more votes than Pizatella, and swept every county in the southern coalfields.

Claytor, who lives near St. Albans, said Tuesday that she feels like her defeat of Pizatella was behind the lack of support she alleged she received from Democrats, though she said she did get a lot of support from local party executive committees.

“The energy of the Trump campaign here in the state had a great impact on it. The Republican party was more united than the Democrat Party,” Claytor said, adding that it seems to her that Democrats tend to support candidates with money.

Gainer, who departed the office in May to take a job as president and CEO of the National White Collar Crime Center in Richmond, Virginia, held the office for 25 years, taking over in 1993 from his father, who had served since 1977.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Leonhardt received 315,286 votes, or 49 percent, while Helmick received 267,496, or 41 percent, and Libertarian Buddy Guthrie, received 67,238, or 10 percent.

“I started my journey in this agriculture thing growing up in the suburbs,” Leonhardt said Tuesday. “My parents bought an old abandoned farm in Pennsylvania and I just ran those fields and hills and I just wanted to do something in agriculture.”

“This state has so many tremendous resources,” Leonhardt said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re doing agricultural projects that fit with our terrain, that fit with our people and that fit with our geography. With West Virginia and its resources, we should be thriving.”

Helmick, of Pocahontas County, had won the office in 2012 from Democrat Gus Douglass, who held the agriculture commissioner office for 44 years before deciding not to run for re-election to another four-year term as commissioner.

As of the latest finance filings, Helmick had raised only $48,000 to Leonhardt’s $122,000 throughout this election cycle. Leonhardt had spent about $108,000 as of late last month, about four times what Helmick spent.

Perdue, of Cross Lanes, won a sixth term as the state’s treasurer. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Perdue had 330,830 votes, or 50 percent of the vote, Urling had 287,308 votes, or 44 percent, and Libertarian Michael Young had 39,081 votes, or 6 percent.

As of the latest finance filings late last month, Perdue had raised $262,000 and spent $201,000, while Urling had raised $106,000 and spent $65,000.

Reach Ryan Quinn at [email protected],, 304-348-1254 or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.

Reach Jake Jarvis at 304-348-7939, [email protected], or follow @NewsroomJake on Twitter.

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