Handicapping the Democratic Supreme Court race

By The West Virginia Record | Apr 17, 2008


We have less than a month before the May 13 Primary Election in West Virginia, and here's my take on the where things stand with the biggest attraction: The race for the democratic nomination for two seats on the state Supreme Court.

Margaret Workman

She has the most going for her at the moment. Workman enjoys solid name recognition because of her previous term on the court and she's well-known in the voter-heavy Kanawha Valley where she has practiced law for many years. She also has personal wealth, having loaned her campaign $600,000. Workman has yet to go up on TV, but that's coming. Workman's vulnerability is a decision she authored when she was on the court authorizing state spending for abortions for poor women. That's a target for the strong pro-life movement in West Virginia if it decides to go after her.

Spike Maynard

Maynard has name recognition because he has served one 12-year term on the court, but some of that recognition is negative. The pictures of Maynard vacationing with controversial Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship in Monaco while Massey cases were pending before the court are heavy baggage. Look for Maynard at every opportunity to say he's a victim of a "smear campaign." He has the most to fear from negative attack ads if any other candidate or group decides to go after him. Maynard's first TV ads started Sunday. His April 4 spending report showed he had raised $480,000.

Menis Ketchum

The Huntington lawyer's biggest challenge is getting his name out to the rest of the state. He's willing to spend the money -- his own and contributions -- to do that. Ketchum was the first up with TV ads. Ketchum is a candid speaker on the campaign trail which raises the possibility he'll say something that will get him into trouble. His campaign believes he and Workman are currently the top two candidates, but the Maynard campaign believes Maynard and Workman are the top two.

Bob Bastress

The WVU law school professor has been the most outspoken on the campaign trail in his criticism of current court. Bastress called for an independent investigation into the controversy involving Maynard and Blankenship. Bastress's problem is money. The latest financial report showed he had just $74,000 in total contributions and a balance of $31,000. That's by far the least of any of the candidates.

But there are also wild cards.

The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce has been raising money for three years in preparation for this race. The chamber will spend several hundred thousand dollars to try to make sure Maynard is re-elected. Their TV ads are already running and will continue until the election.

The Center for Individual Freedom wants to run ads in the race, but the national organization that advocates conservative candidates and causes does not want to disclose its donors. The outcome of a case pending before a federal judge may determine whether this group gets involved. The conventional wisdom is the group would run ads for Maynard.

Several labor organizations would like to defeat Maynard, but the question is how deeply involved will they get in the race. There's speculation on the campaign trail that the ACT Foundation will exploit the Maynard controversy and run ads against him, but an ACT official says they've made no decision.

The Supreme Court race four years ago was the hottest ever as Don Blankenship and others went after then-Justice Warren McGraw. McGraw's infamous rant at Racine was exploited by his opponents. This year's race has the potential to be just as contentious, it just depends on how far the candidates and the interest groups are willing to go.

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