- Associated Press - Monday, October 3, 2016

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia’s top two statewide contests this election pit Democrats who have bankrolled their own campaigns against Republicans aided by big-spending outside groups.

The open race for governor, matching up Democratic billionaire Jim Justice against Republican state Senate President Bill Cole, has cost about $8.1 million, according to campaign finance reports through late September.

Down the ballot, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s challenge from Democratic state Delegate Doug Reynolds has run up a $5.2 million tab so far.

Both races are flooding TV airwaves with political hit ads that are expected to continue through Election Day.

Justice, a coal and agriculture businessman, has loaned his campaign $2.6 million and his campaign has spent $3.5 million to date. In addition to his own money, Justice has raised another $1.3 million, and has $150,200 left in his campaign account.

Cole, who has spent $2.1 million, has relied on his wealth to a lesser degree. He has raised $2.1 million and put $600,000 of his own money into the race through loans and direct contributions. He has $418,700 cash remaining.

Cole has enjoyed an edge in outside spending by the Republican Governors Association.

The group has spent $1.6 million on ads, most of them attacking Justice for his family’s donations to the Democratic National Committee in 2011.

Republicans point to the donations to lump Justice in with Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, both unpopular figures in West Virginia, particularly due to policies that address climate change by targeting power plants that burn coal. Justice, who has helped both parties with campaign checks, said the DNC money was intended to support previous Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear.

Justice isn’t endorsing anyone in the presidential contest, while most West Virginia Republicans are riding Donald Trump’s popularity in the state.

The Democratic Governors Association has aided Justice through $912,800 in ads, specifically criticizing Cole for $500,000 spent on various upgrades at the Capitol. Cole’s campaign has called it misleading, pointing out official uses for several of the items.

In the attorney general’s race, the disparity in outside spending has been much wider.

The Republican Attorneys General Association has invested $3.4 million in ads supporting Morrisey, the first-term attorney general. The GOP group is likewise looking to lump Reynolds in with the Washington Democratic establishment, making references to his $2,300 donation to Clinton’s campaign in 2007. Reynolds has said he won’t endorse in the presidential race.

West Virginia is the most expensive race in the country for the Republican Attorneys General Association to date, said association spokesman Jordan Russell. Comparatively, in North Carolina, the group has reserved $3.8 million in TV ad time though Election Day.

Reynolds has relied almost solely on his own money.

He has put $1.8 million of his wealth into the race through loans, direct contributions and out-of-pocket purchases of advertising. Outside Democratic groups haven’t gotten involved on his behalf.

Reynolds, who runs HD Media and is CEO of Energy Services of America, is hitting Morrisey for his ties to the pharmaceutical industry in a state ravaged by opioid abuse and overdose deaths. Morrisey’s wife lobbies for the pharmaceutical industry, and Morrisey used to as well. Purdue Pharma has donated $1,000 to his campaign.

The GOP attorneys general group has accepted pharmaceutical checks, but it’s unclear which donors to the national group are interested in which races.

Morrisey has countered by heralding partnerships his office has struck with law enforcement and the medical community to address drug abuse.

Morrisey’s campaign has only spent $328,600. He has loaned the campaign $250,000.

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