The latest defection to jolt the West Virginia Democratic Party came this week when Delegate Ryan Ferns made public his intention to not only become a Republican but to run for the state Senate.
It marks the third prominent move from Democrat to Republican in West Virginia in the past several months. State Sen. Evan Jenkins from Cabell County was one of those who changed parties, and is running for Congress against incumbent Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall of Beckley. The third was Margaret Bailey, a Clarksburg council member who is now running for the state House of Delegates.
We don’t question the motives of those who have changed parties. But it is further evidence of a pattern of political shifting in West Virginia that has been occurring in recent years.
That shift can be seen in the past four presidential elections in the state, when West Virginians voted each time for the Republican candidate, culminating in 2012 with Republican candidate Mitt Romney winning 62.3 percent of the vote to Democrat Barack Obama’s 35.5 percent.
It appears that many Democrats in the state are becoming estranged from their party due to the increasingly partisan and liberal voices among the party’s national leadership.
And the rigid partisanship we see in Washington does little for West Virginia Democrats who see themselves as moderates by comparison. It is a tricky road for them to travel.
Because what seems perfectly acceptable in California or New York isn’t necessarily what West Virginians want to hear. And that disconnect seems to be playing a role in the erosion of West Virginia’s traditionally strong Democratic Party presence.
We think a deep vein of economic discontent that runs through the state is playing a key role in this political reassessment. West Virginia ranked dead last in the 2012 Gallup Economic Confidence Index with a rating of 42 percent. Wyoming and Montana are next at 39 percent and 32 percent.
It is no coincidence that the economies of those three states depend heavily on mineral extraction. The current Democratic administration’s reckless misuse of regulatory fiat has hurt the residents of these states most.
A new CNN/ORC International poll released Tuesday shows that a 50-42 percent Democratic advantage over Republicans among registered voters in a generic ballot a month ago has vanished.
The new poll shows a 49-47 percent GOP edge, presumably a reflection of public dissatisfaction over the Affordable Care Act rollout.
The fiasco of the rollout of the Affordable Care Act is doing Democrats in West Virginia and elsewhere no favors.
So it is not surprising that some West Virginia Democrats are reassessing their party allegiances.
In many upcoming races in West Virginia, Republicans expect to be competitive in areas where that has not always been the case. They also are fielding stronger candidates than they have in the past.
We believe that is a positive for West Virginia. As the quality of Republican candidates improves, it seems obvious that the Democratic Party in the state will have to raise its game to match that.
We think better candidates, from both parties, are a win-win for West Virginia voters.