CHARLESTON — Sen. Robert C. Byrd made history Tuesday, defeating Morgantown businessman John Raese to win a record ninth term in the U.S. Senate.

Byrd easily overcame a challenge that proved costly to Raese, who spent roughly $2.2 million of his own money on the race. Although Byrd has drawn criticism from Republicans nationally, particularly for his vocal opposition to the Iraq war, the GOP never took the kind of interest in the race that some predicted.

All three of West Virginia’s House members also won re-election.

With 86 percent of precincts reporting, Byrd had 64 percent of the vote to Raese’s 34 percent.

Mountain Party candidate Jesse Johnson also challenged Byrd, but didn’t run a visible campaign. He received 1.8 percent of the vote.

“I never want to stop serving the people,” Byrd said in prepared remarks. “These men and women have given to me the most sacred gift any human being can give to another. They have given me their trust.”

Raese campaign consultant Gary Abernathy said the campaign had no immediate comment.

In the 3rd District, 15-term Democratic incumbent Rep. Nick Rahall also won easily, defeating Republican Cabell County Sheriff Kim Wolfe. With 90 percent of precincts reporting, Rahall had 68 percent of the vote to Wolfe’s 32 percent.

Rahall has represented the 3rd District since 1977. Wolfe had managed to win countywide office in a heavily Democratic part of the state but only raised about $45,000 for his campaign against Rahall.

Democratic Rep. Alan Mollohan easily overcame ethics questions to win re-election in the 1st District, defeating state Delegate Chris Wakim, R-Ohio. With 78 percent of precincts reporting, Mollohan had 65 percent of the vote to Wakim’s 35 percent.

“The Republicans this year were really operating out of desperation. They pulled out all the stops and it expressed itself with terrible, negative campaigning. But here in West Virginia, it looks like the voters rejected that,” Mollohan said.

Bucking a nationwide trend, which saw Republican incumbents voted out of office, Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito won a fourth term representing the 2nd District. With 91 percent of precincts reporting, Capito had 57 percent of the vote to Democratic challenger Mike Callaghan’s 43 percent. It was the closest of the three U.S. House races in West Virginia.

An exit poll of West Virginia voters found Byrd continues to have almost universal appeal, crossing most age, gender, income, religious and geographic lines. He has repeatedly challenged President Bush over the war in Iraq and found some of his strongest support among voters who disapprove of the conflict and the way Bush is doing his job.

The poll was conducted as voters left 19 randomly selected precincts across the state.

The Senate race is not the only congressional contest that fizzled after initial expectations of national interest.

Wakim’s campaign to unseat Mollohan was fueled by an FBI investigation into federal earmarks that the 12-term incumbent secured for nonprofit groups in his district. In some cases, Mollohan had helped start the groups, and their employees included associates and political contributors.

Wakim’s campaign focused on Mollohan’s ethics problems but he was also damaged by ethical questions, including charges he exaggerated his military record and his admission that bars he owned illegally paid out winnings on video poker machines.

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