CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Primary voters set up a rematch between Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Republican Bill Maloney on Tuesday, while narrowing the field of candidates for agriculture commissioner and two State Supreme Court seats. The election results also featured a pair of legislative upsets.
With 96 percent of precincts reporting, Maloney overcame GOP rival Ralph William Clark with 83 percent, while Tomblin bested fellow Democrat Arne Moltis by 84 percent. Tomblin narrowly defeated Maloney in last year's special gubernatorial election for an unexpired term. The office is now up for a full, four-year term.
Maloney, celebrating in Martinsburg, said he's ready for the rematch, though he's uncertain his 180,000-mile truck will last through the campaign. A lesson he learned from the last race is that face time with voters is critical, so he's traveling the state, from the Eastern Panhandle to the southern coalfields.
"You can't rely on word of mouth. You've got to be there, and people have got to meet you," Maloney said. "We feel really good about the ground game."
Tomblin did not issue a statement or speak to reporters about his victory.
The state Supreme Court race, meanwhile, pits incumbent Justice Robin Davis and fellow Democrat Tish Chafin, a recent State Bar president, against Republican Circuit Judge John Yoder and Allen Loughry, a Supreme Court law clerk.
Chafin and Davis each received at least 26 percent of the vote to beat out four other Democrats, Circuit Judges Jim Rowe and J.D. Beane, Supreme Court law clerk Louis Palmer, and New Martinsville lawyer H. John Rogers. Davis was first elected in 1996. Chafin spurred a debate among the candidates with her proposal to address judicial conflicts of interest. Yoder and Loughry were the only GOP candidates Tuesday.
Sen. Walt Helmick prevailed in the five-way race to become the Democratic nominee for the next commissioner of agriculture. With 33 percent of the vote and 96 percent of precincts reporting, he defeated two top department officials, Steve Miller and Bob Tabb, former agency official Joe Messineo, and conservation district official Sally Shepherd.
Helmick will face Republican Kent Leonhardt, who was unopposed. The November victor will succeed retiring Commissioner Gus Douglass. The 85-year-old Democrat is the nation's longest-serving agriculture chief, having been elected to a total of 11 terms since 1964.
Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall defeated Putnam County assistant prosecutor Steve Connolly in the GOP primary for state treasurer, with 55 percent of the vote. He'll challenge incumbent Treasurer John Perdue.
A Democrat, Perdue is assured his party's nomination, as are Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, Attorney General Darrell McGraw and Auditor Glen Gainer. Each will face a GOP opponent in November, and those candidates were unopposed as well.
Voters were split in their support for Tomblin's recent statement that he wasn't sure he'd endorse President Barack Obama, a fellow Democrat.
Adam Jones, a 31-year-old Democrat and teacher from Cross Lanes, said he backed Tomblin anyway.
"It takes a lot of guts to come out and say that you don't agree with the president who belongs to the party you're in," he said.
Wanda Goodwin, a 61-year-old Republican who said she sometimes sides with Democrats, agreed with Jones.
"It makes me like them more," said Goodwin, executive director of the state Board of Veterinary Medicine.
But Democrat Maria Gaddis, an academic adviser at West Virginia University in Morgantown, was dismayed by the govenor's position - which is shared by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin.
"It bothers me tremendously," said Gaddis, who also took her 19-year-old daughter to vote at Morgantown High School. "It made me kind of leery about voting for the both of them because I'm concerned about the way they're going to vote. That makes a difference."
Ultimately, she did vote for both Manchin and Tomblin.
"I have to keep hope that they will indeed vote for Barack Obama," she said.
Democrat Adam Polinski declined to choose either Tomblin or his primary opponent. The 48-year-old Morgantown man doesn't know who he'll support this fall.
"I don't really like any of the candidates," he said. Polinski also said, "Gov. Tomblin has got to be the favorite. He's a conservative Democrat, and that seems to be the recipe for success in a lot of West Virginia races."
The legislative races are the first since the redrawing of districts in response to the 2010 Census. House districts, for instance, have increased from 58 to 67 and include more single-member districts. But a relative handful of these seats are contested in the primary. Just six of the 17 Senate seats have multiple candidates, for instance, all of them on the Democratic ballot. Democrats hold a majority of seats in both chambers.
Senate Majority Whip Richard Browning lost his primary by around 200 votes to Delegate Daniel Hall, a fellow Wyoming County Democrat. Delegate Joe Talbott, meanwhile, fell to longtime Webster County Assessor Dana Lynch in the Democratic primary for his 44th House District seat.