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Cash flowing into W.Va. legislative races

WHEELING, W.Va. — Democrats and Republicans alike know what is on the line for West Virginia in November’s election – and they’re opening their wallets accordingly.

State legislative candidates have raised nearly $6.2 million this election cycle, according to the most recent round of campaign finance reports filed with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office. That is more than twice the $3 million raised by legislative hopefuls during the entire 2012 election cycle, with Democrats outraising Republicans by a roughly two-to-one margin.

Republicans need to pick up just four seats in the House of Delegates to seize control of that chamber for the first time in 80 years.

And while Democrats hold a comfortable majority in the state Senate, the GOP believes it has an opportunity to make significant gains there this year.

“In politics, they say, follow the money. And in this case, we’re following an awful lot,” said Robert Rupp, history and political science professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College. “It is obviously reflective of the importance that both parties have placed on the legislative elections.”

The lack of statewide offices on the ballot this year may have something to do with the extra money being infused into the legislative races, as the governor’s race alone drew about $4.7 million in contributions in 2012. But, as Rupp points out, there are big races at the federal level this year – the Senate showdown between Rep. Shelley Capito, R-W.Va., and Democrat Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, and competitive races in the 2nd and 3rd congressional districts – that could have drawn attention away from races in the Legislature.

“What this increased expenditure shows is that both parties and their supporters are paying attention,” he said.

Locally, candidates for the nine House of Delegates and two state Senate seats up for grabs in November have raised a collective $694,595 this election cycle. A single race – the Senate contest between incumbent Sen. Rocky Fitzsimmons, D-Ohio, and Delegate Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio – accounts for more than 40 percent of that total.

Fitzsimmons leads local candidates in fundraising by far, reporting $199,380 in contributions for the 2014 election cycle. He leads Ferns by a nearly two-and-a-half to one margin, with the former Democrat having raised just $88,241.

In the Northern Panhandle’s other Senate race, the 2nd District, longtime Sen. Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel, appears to have met his fundraising match in Monongalia County Republican Kent Leonhardt. Edgell holds a slim fundraising lead with $65,430 to $64,906 for Leonhardt, who got his name out with a good showing in the 2012 race for state agriculture commissioner.

Among the area’s six House of Delegate districts, the most populous – the 3rd District – isn’t where the most money is being spent. That distinction goes to the 1st District, which covers all of Hancock County and a sliver of northern Brooke County, where incumbent Democrats Randy Swartzmiller and Ronnie Jones lead the way over their Republican challengers with $30,961 and $21,350, respectively. Mark Zatezalo reported $15,261 with Pat McGeehan – who is seeking to recapture the seat he held from 2009-11 – running a distant fundraising fourth with $4,350.

In the 3rd District, encompassing Ohio County – the only race where a newcomer is sure to capture a seat, thanks to Ferns’ Senate bid – Democrat challenger Holli Smith has raised the most cash, with $38,425, followed by Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, with $23,153, Democrat Shawn Fluharty, $7,500, and Republican Dolph Santorine, $201.

The 2nd District, which includes most of Brooke County and eastern Ohio County, shows Republican challenger Ryan Weld with a fundraising lead of $24,975 to incumbent Democrat Phil Diserio’s $18,700. The latest reports indicate a late surge for Weld, who raised more than two-thirds of his total since the May primary.

In the 4th District, which covers all of Marshall County, incumbent Democrat Michael Ferro holds a clear advantage with $31,900 raised, followed by fellow Democrat Dave Hall, $17,175, incumbent Republican David Evans, $10,602, and Republican challenger Ron Morris, with $1,075.

In the 5th District, which includes all of Wetzel County and a small part of western Monongalia County, incumbent Democrat Dave Pethtel holds a commanding lead with $25,900 raised to his challenger, Republican Mary Kay Milliken’s $500.

The 6th District, Tyler and Doddridge counties, has attracted the least money of all the local legislative races. Incumbent Republican William Roger Romine has raised just $4,450 – but that’s nearly 28 times more than the $160 brought in by his challenger, Democrat Karl Paul.

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