The Republican-on-Republican blood feud developing in West Virginia is just over a single House seat, however the consequence of Tuesday’s primary between Representatives David McKinley and Alex Mooney will signal the direction of a possible Republican majority in Congress: Will it’s a celebration of governance or one purely of ideology, driven by former President Donald J. Trump?
Redistricting and West Virginia’s shrinking population forced the state’s Republican Legislature to pit Mr. McKinley, a six-term Republican with a realistic bent, against Mr. Mooney, who has served 4 terms marked more by conservative rhetoric than legislative achievements.
Mr. McKinley has the backing of much of the state’s power structure, including its governor, Jim Justice, and, in recent days, its Democratic senator, Joe Manchin III. Mr. Mooney, nevertheless, can have the endorsement that matters most: Mr. Trump’s — in a state that gave the previous president 69 percent of the vote in 2020.
Neither candidate could exactly be called a moderate Republican, but Mr. McKinley thought his primary bid could be framed around his technocratic accomplishments, his support for the bipartisan infrastructure bill that was co-written by Mr. Manchin and his attentiveness to a state used to — and still in need of — federal attention.
On Thursday, he and Governor Justice were within the state’s northern panhandle, not for a campaign rally but to go to a high-tech metal alloy plant.
Mr. Mooney’s campaign doesn’t go for nuance. His is built around one thing: Mr. Trump’s endorsement.
The previous president sided with Mr. Mooney after Mr. McKinley voted for the infrastructure bill in addition to for laws to create a bipartisan commission to look at the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol — laws that was filibustered by Republicans within the Senate.
“Alex is the one candidate on this race that has my complete and total endorsement,” Mr. Trump says in a radio commercial blanketing the state. The previous president goes on to blast Mr. McKinley as a “RINO” — “Republican in name only” — “who supported the fake infrastructure bill that wasted tons of of billions of dollars on the Green Recent Deal” and Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “phony narrative” on Jan. 6 that went “against the interests of West Virginia.”
A television commercial also featuring Mr. Trump tells viewers that Mr. Mooney defended the previous president from Ms. Pelosi’s “Jan. 6 witch hunt.”
Sensing that any high-minded campaign on accomplishments was simply not going to work, Mr. McKinley has hit back at “Maryland Mooney” as a carpetbagger — he once headed the Maryland Republican Party and ran for office in Recent Hampshire — who’s under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for charges that he improperly used campaign dollars and staff for private gain.
Most remarkably, Mr. McKinley has turned to a Democrat, Mr. Manchin, for his closing argument.
“Alex Mooney has proven he’s all about Alex Mooney, but West Virginians know that David McKinley is all about us,” Mr. Manchin says in a McKinley campaign ad. He also calls Mr. Mooney a liar for suggesting that Mr. McKinley supported the far-reaching climate change and social welfare bill that Mr. Manchin killed.
All of that is somewhat extraordinary in a state where federal largess has made politicians just like the now-deceased Senator Robert C. Byrd and his protégé, Mr. Manchin, folk heroes. However the state has modified within the Trump era, and loyalties have hardened, said Scott Widmeyer, co-founder of the Stubblefield Institute for Civil Political Communications at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.V.
“We’ve seen heated political races, but I don’t think anything has been as nasty and down and dirty as this one,” he said. “Republicans are eating their very own.”
Institute officials invited each candidates to a debate, but only Mr. McKinley accepted. They then suggested that the candidates come individually to town hall meetings. Only Mr. McKinley accepted.
Mr. Mooney is the one evincing confidence, nevertheless. Mr. McKinley entered the race at a structural advantage. The state’s newly drawn district includes 19 of the 20 counties Mr. McKinley previously represented and only eight of the 17 counties in Mr. Mooney’s current district. Mr. Mooney’s biggest population center, the capital in Charleston, was sent to Representative Carol Miller, the one other West Virginian within the House.
But Mr. Trump is popular in every West Virginia county, and on the ability of his name, Mr. Mooney has been posting polls from national and local outfits showing him up by double digits ahead of Tuesday’s primary.
Understand the 2022 Midterm Elections
Card 1 of 6
Why are these midterms so necessary? This 12 months’s races could tip the balance of power in Congress to Republicans, hobbling President Biden’s agenda for the second half of his term. They may even test former President Donald J. Trump’s role as a G.O.P. kingmaker. Here’s what to know:
What are the midterm elections? Midterms happen two years after a presidential election, on the midpoint of a presidential term — hence the name. This 12 months, plenty of seats are up for grabs, including all 435 House seats, 35 of the 100 Senate seats and 36 of fifty governorships.
What do the midterms mean for Biden? With slim majorities in Congress, Democrats have struggled to pass Mr. Biden’s agenda. Republican control of the House or Senate would make the president’s legislative goals a near-impossibility.
What are the races to observe? Only a handful of seats will determine if Democrats maintain control of the House over Republicans, and a single state could shift power within the 50-50 Senate. Listed below are 10 races to observe within the House and Senate, in addition to several key governor’s contests.
When are the important thing races going down? The first gauntlet is already underway. Closely watched races in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia will likely be held in May, with more going down through the summer. Primaries run until September before the overall election on Nov. 8.
Go deeper. What’s redistricting and the way does it affect the midterm elections? How does polling work? How do you register to vote? We’ve got more answers to your pressing midterm questions here.
Aides near Mr. McKinley say the race will likely be close, and so long as Mr. Trump doesn’t swoop into the state on the last minute for a get-out-the-vote rally, either candidate could still win a low-turnout affair. One campaign official said many citizens who way back abandoned the Democrats but not their Democratic Party registration have been re-registering as independents or Republicans to vote against Mr. Mooney.
Jonathan Kott, a former spokesman and adviser to Mr. Manchin, said the Democratic senator has “a real friendship and dealing relationship” with Mr. McKinley, some extent Mr. Manchin made during an area radio interview last week.
But what seems to have really pushed the Democratic senator to intervene in a Republican primary was not his friendship with Mr. McKinley but his anger over Mr. Mooney’s opposition to the infrastructure bill.
“Mooney’s vote against the infrastructure bill shows he isn’t focused on what’s best for West Virginia,” Mr. Kott said.
Within the radio interview, Mr. Manchin also took a swipe at “Maryland Mooney.”
“Alex got here here, I believe, for political opportunity. I can’t figure some other reason,” he told the radio host Hoppy Kercheval.
It is just one House seat in a really particular state, however the narrative of the West Virginia race has caught the eye of a wider audience attempting to divine how firmly Mr. Trump has the Republican Party in his grip.
“I believe we’ll all be watching the returns Tuesday night,” Mr. Widmeyer said, alluding to the writer J.D. Vance’s come-from-behind victory within the Republican Senate primary in Ohio after Mr. Trump endorsed him. “This will likely be the second week where we’re watching the influence of Trump on one candidate.”