- Associated Press - Saturday, October 25, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Lawsuits, big spending and disgust with President Barack Obama all factor into Democrats’ toughest election in 85 straight years of running the West Virginia House of Delegates.

All 100 seats on the ballot and House Democrats have a six-seat edge over Republicans. With a GOP candidate for almost every slot, the party hopes voter disapproval of the president trickles down the entire ballot.

In 2012, all 55 counties voted against Obama, whose push to cut carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants is highly unpopular in the major coal-producing state.

House Democrats’ “record is one that very much reflects the same misjudgments and values that the Obama administration has tried to put in place across the country,” said House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha.

Democrats contend their party doesn’t align with Obama. They point to making recent cuts in grocery and corporate taxes, and tax breaks on alternative fuel cars. They say they’re fighting Washington on Appalachian coal, a struggling industry also facing serious market and geological limitations.

State Democrats easily passed an abortion ban alongside Republicans this year, though Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed it over constitutionality concerns.

And Democrats worked with the GOP to pass legislation allowing concealed carry permit owners to bring guns to city-run swimming pools, after-school centers and similar venues, as long as they stow firearms out of sight and so that other cannot access them. The City of Charleston is challenging parts of the law in the courts.

“(A West Virginia) Democrat supports working men and women in this state and in this country,” state Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio said earlier this month at the party’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. “It’s a Democrat that wants to see businesses succeed, whether they be large or small.”

The fight has played out in the courts, on TV and radio airwaves and in expensive mailings. Democrats have a 24-10 edge in the Senate, but Republicans are looking to cut the lead in a few races.

So far, statehouse candidates have spent more than $4 million in the 2014 election cycle, according to the secretary of state’s website. Outside groups have spent $1.7 million on statehouse election messaging.

Honest West Virginians, using about $900,000 from unions, has spent more than $606,000 protecting Democrats. The PAC ads tie state GOP candidates to the billionaire businessmen Koch brothers, whose affiliates have spent millions in West Virginia attacking Democratic U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall. There is no clear tie to money from the Koch groups in the state elections yet. Koch-led Americans For Prosperity has West Virginia staff working on the ground.

Honest West Virginians levied one of its biggest attacks, $39,000 worth of TV ads, against GOP Del. Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison. One commercial references shootings in Columbine, Sandy Hook Elementary and Virginia Tech, before saying Hamrick wants to allow guns on school property and college campuses, and opposes child safety locks. It cited his 2014 West Virginia Citizens Defense League survey.

West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse has spent almost $202,000, mostly on mailings attacking Democrats and boosting Republicans. The group fault Democrats for taking campaign cash from trial lawyers. Del. Tim Manchin, D-Marion, is facing $20,800 worth of advertising attacks from the group.

Democratic interests have filed an elections complaint against the nonprofit, saying it broke the law by not disclosing donors behind the mailers.

Other GOP-favorable groups have used big checks for election messages. Some donors include Murray Energy, $250,000; Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick, $100,000; and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, $50,000. Grow WV Inc. mailings, for example, accuse Democrats of trying to kill coal jobs.

Republicans almost gave Democrats an automatic Kanawha County win when GOP Del. Suzette Raines dropped her re-election bid in August. Democrats sued her over issues of residency and paperwork filing. A similar Democratic lawsuit against GOP candidate Melissa Lewis in Preston County failed.

Raines said she withdrew because of her mother’s death in March and the end of a long-term relationship.

The West Virginia Supreme Court then rebuked a state election board, which wouldn’t allow the GOP to fill Raines’ slot. The court ordered replacement Marie Sprouse-McDavid’s name on the ballot.

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