By HOPPY KERCHEVAL
MORGANTOWN — West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw is like a cat on Election Day. This Democrat always seems to land on his feet, even when his critics and opponents believe he’s done for.
In 2004, McGraw survived a challenge from Republican Hiram Lewis, winning by just 6,000 votes.
McGraw was wounded politically that year, not so much by the underfunded Lewis, but rather by a withering campaign funded by then-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship against McGraw’s brother, Warren, in the state Supreme Court race.
The attack ads against Warren McGraw drifted over into the attorney general’s race and nearly cost Darrell McGraw his seat.
In 2008, McGraw beat Dan Greear, a hard-campaigning Republican, by just 5,300 votes out of nearly 679,000 votes cast.
Now, in 2012, McGraw may have another substantial political fight on his hands as he seeks a sixth four-year term. This time it’s Republican Patrick Morrisey.
Neither candidate has a primary opponent, so they will face each other in November.
Morrisey is a lawyer from Jefferson County who works for a Washington, D.C. law firm, primarily on health care and federal regulatory issues.
He’s a political unknown in West Virginia, but he has established his viability by raising $152,000 during the first reporting period. That’s nearly twice as much as McGraw, who raised just $84,000 during the same time.
Morrisey is leaving his job soon so he can campaign and fund-raise full time.
“If I can get the resources and really hustle around the state, then I have a good chance of winning,” he told me.
Raising money has never been a particular strength for McGraw.
He raised and spent $294,000 in the ’08 race and $207,000 in ’04. He’ll need to work the phones and host more fundraisers in 2012 to match Morrisey’s expected war chest.
McGraw has also struggled to carry the state’s most populous counties. He has lost Berkeley, Cabell, Harrison, Ohio, Putnam, Raleigh and Wood in each of the last two elections.
Additionally, Greear beat him by 4,000 votes in Kanawha in ’08, although McGraw carried Kanawha in ’04. McGraw narrowly won Monongalia County in ’08, but lost in ’04.
McGraw typically makes up the difference in southern counties, where he tends to win by wide margins.
Morrisey will try to exploit the anti-Obama sentiment in West Virginia. He’ll cite his work on the multi-state lawsuit challenging the unpopular Affordable Care Act and he’ll talk tough about fighting the EPA on the air quality standards that are threatening the coal industry.
Morrisey also anticipates PAC money coming in on his side, if he can get the race close enough. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce would love to see McGraw sent packing, and it has money to spend.
McGraw typically likes to avoid his opponents, as if pretending they don’t exist. But this time, his opponent has a built-in weakness.
Morrisey moved to West Virginia in 2004, but only became eligible to practice law in the state last January.
The attack ad practically writes itself.
For several election cycles, there’s been a sense that the political winds of the state are shifting.
The Republican presidential nominee has carried the state the last three elections, and will again in 2012. Many Democrats campaign on conservative principles.
McGraw is more of a throwback, a New Deal Democrat who earned his political stripes coming up in the rough-and-tumble world of southern West Virginia politics.
His critics – and there are plenty of them – love to predict his demise, but they haven’t gotten it right … yet.
Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.