CHARLESTON, W.Va. A top state Senate leader narrowly lost the West Virginia primary in what became the most expensive legislative race of that election, the final round of campaign finance reports from the May 8 primary show.
Overall spending by legislative candidates reached $1.8 million, according to filings posted by the secretary of states office that reflect activity as of May 20. The reported campaign balances for the primary winners also help set the stage for the upcoming general election. Democrats hold majorities in both chambers. While that party will retain its hold on the Senate, because of a lack of Republican candidates, the state GOP has made a top priority of capturing at least 15 House seats to take over that body.
Senate Majority Whip Richard Browning and Delegate Daniel Hall each spent just over $108,000 in the contest that Hall won by 217 votes, making it by far the priciest legislative matchup.
Both Wyoming County Democrats loaned their campaigns $25,000 in the campaigns closing weeks. But Hall also earlier gave his campaign $15,000 to keep pace with Browning. The Senate leaders campaign finance report says he raised $91,834 for the primary, the most of any legislative candidate.
Hall is running for the Senate after two terms in the House of Delegates. Browning, who had successfully moved from the House to the Senate in 2008, joined leadership last year with the ascent of President Jeff Kessler to that chambers top post.
The recently redrawn Kanawha County districts saw the most spending among House candidates. Delegate Nancy Guthrie topped the list for that chamber with more than $56,000. The three-term Democrat also led legislative candidates for campaign loans. Shes self-funding her effort with $42,000.
All told, seven of the 10 highest-spending House candidates hail from Kanawha Countys 35th and 36th delegate districts. With Guthrie seeking re-election in the 36th District, former state Tax Commissioner Chris Morris followed her for spending at $47,000 as he seeks a seat in the 35th. Those top Kanawha County spenders all won primary berths except former Delegate Sharon Spencer, who spent more than $33,000 but failed in her bid to rejoin the House in the three-seat 36th District.
Spencer was not the only legislative hopeful who lost despite outspending opponents. The review of post-primary filings by The Associated Press showed around a half-dozen House candidates whose spending did not yield nominations. They include Delegate Joe Talbott, unseated in the Democratic primary by longtime Webster County Assessor Dana Lynch. Tea party activist Terry Craver, meanwhile, outspent Delegate Ruth Rowan but attracted less than half the primary votes of the Hampshire County Republican.
The campaign finance reports also suggest several top match-ups emerging in advance of the fall campaigns:
Mercer County auto dealer Bill Cole had $18,743 on hand May 20, in his GOP bid to challenge Sen. Mark Wills. Thats twice the balance of the Democratic incumbent, whos coming off a primary he won by 552 votes after vastly outspending his party rival.
Sen. Herb Snyder had a $60,088 balance, the most of any legislative candidate in a contested race. That gave the Jefferson County Democrat a nearly 2-to-1 cash edge over Republican nominee Jim Ruland. Both were unopposed May 8.
Sen. Jack Yost, D-Brooke, had more than twice the cash on hand as Pat McGeehan, a former one-term GOP delegate, $32,070 to $13,744. Neither faced a primary challenger.
Republican Joshua Nelson had $11,182 in his bid to unseat Delegate Larry Barker, D-Boone, who had $4,420, in another fall matchup that follows uncontested primaries.
With heavy support from coal interests, Randy Smith built up a nearly $23,000 balance for his GOP campaign as he takes on Delegate Stan Shaver, a Preston County Democrat who had $7,641 on hand.
Eastern Panhandle lawyer Stephen Skinner reported the healthiest balance among the House contests, with $43,011. The Jefferson County Democrat faces Elliot Simon, who overcame a low-spending Republican primary rival and had $11,021 as of May 20.
Candidates must file the next round of campaign finance reports by Sept. 28.
Campaign finance reports: http://apps.sos.wv.gov/elections/candidate-search
Lawrence Messina covers the statehouse for The Associated Press. Follow him at http://twitter.com/lmessina