This article originally provided by The Herald-Dispatch

November 8, 2006

Blankenship fails to sway legislative races

By LAWRENCE MESSINA
Associated Press Writer

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- After pouring more than $2 million into a statewide campaign to sweep Democrats from the House of Delegates, Massey Energy Co. chief Don Blankenship saw his unprecedented effort fizzle.

Republicans lost ground in both the House and Senate on Tuesday. If unofficial results hold, Democrats will start the 2007 session with 72 seats in the 100-member House, up from 68. They increased their total in the 34-seat Senate from 21 to 23.

"Don Blankenship spent a lot of money to do nothing," state Democratic Party Chairman Nick Casey said Wednesday.

GOP Delegates Gil White of Ohio County, Cindy Frich of Monongalia County, Greg Howard of Cabell County and Debbie Stevens of Tucker County all fell to Democratic challengers.

The pro-Republican multimedia campaign bankrolled by Massey's president, CEO and chairman had promoted all of those candidates except White.

Four other Blankenship-blessed incumbents were re-elected. But Blankenship had also supported 38 GOP challengers in his bid to deliver a Republican majority to the House. Only two prevailed.

Jonathan Miller won the GOP-vacated 53rd District seat, while Carol Miller displaced Delegate Margarette Leach, D-Cabell, in the three-seat 15th House District.

Leach, 79, was forced to curtail her campaigning after being admitted to an assisted living center. She appeared to be the only Democratic incumbent among the 42 targeted by Blankenship's campaign to lose Tuesday.

House Finance Vice Chairman John Doyle, D-Jefferson, was edging out Republican Bob Murto, a Blankenship-backed candidate, 62 percent to 38 percent. With 62 percent of precincts reporting, county officials reported that technical problems held up the remaining results.

Blankenship told WOWK-TV on Tuesday that his campaign had raised the profile of such issues as the elimination of the food tax and stricter laws against drunken driving. The multimillionaire coal executive had pilloried Democrats over a handful of such issues in his ads.

While his independent campaign centered on the House, Blankenship contributed nearly $100,000 to House and Senate candidates. Democrats have held majorities in both chambers since the 1930s.

With half of the Senate on the ballot, Sen. Russ Weeks, R-Raleigh, fell to Democrat Mike Green. Republican Mark Plants failed to hold on to a GOP-vacated seat in Kanawha County's 8th District, losing to Democrat and former broadcaster Erik Wells.

In one of the Republicans' few bright spots, Putnam County Delegate Mike Hall successfully moved to the state Senate by beating lawyer Jim Lees to keep an open 4th District seat in GOP hands.

The GOP also kept the seat of retiring Sen. Sarah Minear, with Dave Sypolt defeating Democrat Craig Rotruck in the 14th District.

But Sen. Randy White, D-Webster, held off challenger Pete Sigler in the 11th District after his campaign was rocked when a television station aired nude photos of him. With 98 percent of precincts reporting, White led 52 percent to 48 percent. A counting machine breakdown in Fayette County, part of the district, prevented a final tally early Wednesday.

Democrats kept their lock on Kanawha County's 30th District and its seven seats, with Nancy Guthrie winning an open seat there. They also held on to two vacated seats in Raleigh County's 27th District, including that of departing House Speaker Bob Kiss.

Blankenship had heavily focused on both districts with his campaign. But a popular Gov. Joe Manchin stumped for fellow Democrats there and elsewhere in the state.

Marty Jackson, a 53-year-old bank teller who voted Tuesday morning, said she wasn't moved by Blankenship's campaign.

"I would never vote for a Republican," she said.

Marc Weintraub, a 35-year-old attorney and Charleston city councilman, said this was the first time he voted a straight Democratic ticket.

"I'm angry on a national level about the war in Iraq and I'm angry at the state level on Blankenship and his attempt to misrepresent legislators," Weintraub said.

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