Most of the attention in state races this cycle has focused on governor and attorney general. However, control of the state Senate is up for grabs. Republicans hold a narrow 18-16 advantage, and with 18 seats being contested the balance of power could shift. Here are several of the most hotly contested races.

1st District (Marshall, Ohio, Brooke, Hancock). Two-term Democrat incumbent Jack Yost is being challenged by Republican House of Delegates member Ryan Weld. Yost’s advantages include name recognition because of his incumbency and strong labor backing.  Both have campaigned hard. One Weld supporter said his candidate has “met enough people to win the race.” The district is trending Republican. GOP candidate Ryan Ferns defeated Democrat Rocky Fitzsimmons for the other seat there two years ago and the district supported Republican Patrick Morrisey in the 2012 Attorney General’s race. Toss-up.

4th District (Jackson, Mason, Putnam, Roane). Incumbent Republican Mitch Carmichael is in the race of his life against Democratic challenger Brian Prim.  Carmichael, the state Senate Majority Leader and aspiring Senate President, has come under withering attacks from the West Virginia Family Values labor/trial lawyer’s PAC, which has tried to exploit Carmichael’s brief testimony on behalf of a convicted child molester. But the real issue is Carmichael’s support of right-to-work and the repeal of prevailing wage. This race, perhaps more than any other, will indicate the success or failure of labor’s campaign to punish Republicans for their prevailing wage and right-to-work votes. Toss-up.

8th District (Kanawha, Putnam). Here’s another Republican incumbent in trouble. Senator Chris Walters is trying to hang on against Democratic challenger Glenn Jeffries. The West Virginia Family Values PAC is heavily involved in this race and once again, prevailing wage and right-to-work are key issues. Jeffries, a union member who owns a construction company, entered the race primarily because of his support of labor on those two issues and has run a solid campaign. Walters is livid over the labor PAC ads that he says unfairly link him to Carmichael’s testimony in the child molester case and has gone to court to try to stop them from running. Jeffries has outspent Walters $183,000 to $23,000. Slight lean Jeffries.

11th District (Grant, Nicholas, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Randolph, Upshur, Webster). Republican Greg Boso was appointed to fill a vacancy in 2015, so this is his first time trying to win election in the sprawling district. He’s being challenged by Democratic House of Delegates member Denise Campbell. She hails from Randolph County, the largest county in the district, giving her an advantage. Boso will have to try to run up the score in his home county of Nicholas. This is another seat Republicans are concerned they could lose if things don’t break their way on election night. Toss-up.

14th District (Barbour, Hardy, Grant, Mineral, Monongalia, Preston, Taylor, Tucker). This is another sprawling district where the candidates are racking up lots of miles on the campaign trail. Incumbent Democrat Bob Williams is being challenged by Republican House of Delegates member Randy Smith. This is a Republican district. Republican Senator Dave Sypolt defeated his Democratic opponent 65-35 in the 2014 election. The GOP believes this will be a pick-up for them, despite the fact that Williams’ supporters have raised residency issues about Smith. One observer said this is a bellwether race; if Williams wins, it could be a good night for the Democrats. If Smith wins, the GOP could be on its way to expanding its majority.  Slight lean Smith.

16th District (Berkeley, Jefferson). If voters want a distinct choice they have it in the race for this open seat being vacated by Democrat Herb Snyder. The Democratic nominee is House of Delegates member Stephen Skinner, one of the most liberal and outspoken members of the Legislature. His opponent is Patricia Rucker, a Tea Party Republican. This is a rematch of the 2014 67th Delegate District race where Skinner won by just 133 votes. Skinner is better financed, but Rucker is a tireless grassroots campaigner. Slight lean Skinner.

More state Senate races will be previewed in Part 2 tomorrow.


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