THEIR VIEW: State GOP loses key advocate

By The West Virginia Record | Jun 10, 2009

"Hey, it's Gary." I heard that hundreds of times over the last 10 years when I answered the phone in my office.


"Hey, it's Gary."

I heard that hundreds of times over the last 10 years when I answered the phone in my office.

That would be Gary Abernathy on the line.

Abernathy, who announced yesterday he's leaving West Virginia and the state Republican Party after a decade of political battles to return to Ohio, frequently checked in with me, as I imagine he did with other reporters and talk show hosts.

He worked the phones. That was part of his job.

During his tenure here as executive director of the state Republican Party (twice) and a consultant for candidates, Abernathy was often in the fray of state politics.

As a consultant, he had more losers than winners, but, hey, he worked for Republicans in West Virginia. He remained doggedly loyal to the Russ Weeks campaign for governor despite the fact it was a quixotic effort.

One long-time Democratic consultant e-mailed me shortly after he heard that Abernathy was leaving the Republican Party and the state to say that his job just got a little easier; Abernathy was a worthy adversary.

Abernathy had two stints with the state GOP-both controversial.

First, he worked for party Chairman Kris Warner where together they helped make the GOP relevant again in West Virginia. They succeeded, but the relationship between the two eventually soured.

Warner ended up firing Abernathy, who then wrote a book (Elephant Wars) about his tenure with the party and his falling out with Warner. (The two have since patched up.)

Abernathy's second stint with the party was also controversial. Some party members revolted when Chairman Doug McKinney hired Abernathy last December. They said Abernathy was part of the old regime and that he favored particular politicians.

The dust settled, but Abernathy never quite hit his stride. Maybe the constant uphill battle of Republican politics in West Virginia finally wore him down. Or maybe, just as he says, he was tired of working in West Virginia while his family was in Ohio.

News people and talk show hosts need sources like Abernathy, people who understand how the news business works and know the difference between relevant news and puffery.

Abernathy would push if he felt strongly about an issue or an interview, but willingly confess if his idea was soft.

His daily blog-The Republican Gazette-was a good read for state political junkies. He used the space to promote the GOP, break political news and tweak the noses of state Democrats, including Gov. Manchin, often with biting humor.

Abernathy's critics would say he could be condescending. His candor sometimes rubbed people the wrong way. Some within his own party will celebrate his departure because they harbored resentment over some past deed, believed he favored particular party leaders, or that he was never really a West Virginian.

I was always interested when Abernathy called. He typically wanted to propose a story idea, pitch an interview or exchange political gossip. He never came to a conversation empty handed.

Like any good political consultant and party representative, Abernathy knew that the currency of his relationship with sources was information, and he understood the value of its willing exchange.

Kercheval is vice president of operations for MetroNews and the host of Talkline, which has become a signature program of the network.

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