Snow Puts Different Spin on W.Va. Election Cycle - Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

Snow Puts Different Spin on W.Va. Election Cycle

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Nothing like a freak superstorm dumping snow on the last week of October to halt an election.

Chris Stirewalt, digital politics editor and former political editor for The State Journal, wrote in an Oct. 30 column that Sandy, the hurricane that turned into a superstorm, put political races in a "holding pattern."

"Just one week to go before we know how more than 130 million Americans have voted in the longest, nastiest, most expensive election in American history," Stirewalt wrote. "And it is rather fitting, then, that Hurricane Sandy, for all of the damage and destruction she has wrought, has provided the nation a moment to pause and reconsider the race."

As for West Virginia campaigns, politics took a back seat to safety for nearly every candidate.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin issued a news release Oct. 29 before the worst of the storm struck West Virginia. He asked West Virginians to take time to stay safe and to check on friends or neighbors who may need help. The campaign also advised supporters to take campaign signs out of their yards so they wouldn't be blown away in the high winds, making problems for nearby neighbors.

"Governor Tomblin has canceled campaign events until further notice," Tomblin's campaign spokesman Chris Stadelman said. "He is working with Gen. (James) Hoyer and other state and local emergency officials to make sure the state is doing everything possible to assist both residents all over West Virginia as well as travelers stranded in West Virginia due to the road conditions."

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Maloney also shifted his campaign gears to help in storm relief efforts.

"This week, Bill is assisting in the relief efforts by volunteering at a shelter, helping to serve food at a soup kitchen and giving blood with the American Red Cross," Maloney's campaign manager Seth Wimer said. "If you ask West Virginians what they need right now, the answers would likely be relief from this storm, with their power restored and more jobs.

"Just as he will do when he is elected governor, Bill has been diligently leading the way on both of these concerns."

The West Virginia Republican Party on Oct. 29 looked at the impending storm as an opportunity to urge voters to cast early ballots.

"We have no idea just how much this storm might impede early voting later this week and the Election Day next week," WVGOP Chairman Conrad Lucas said in the Oct. 29 statement. "The more folks that can bank their votes now for the (Mitt) Romney-(Bill) Maloney Team means more of us available to help with storm cleanup and restoration next week."

Sen. Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, contacted people in his district to make sure they were safe, according to Tom Susman, the spokesman for Helmick's campaign for agriculture commissioner.

"Elections come and go, and this is a pretty dangerous situation, so we don't want people out knocking on doors," Susman said. "People need to realize this is not about elections; it's about people taking care of their friends and family, and there is plenty of time for campaigning in the future, so let's be safe."

The Republican candidate for agriculture commissioner, Kent Leonhardt, also issued a statement Oct. 27 about putting politics aside.

"The first priority for Kent Leonhardt and his campaign is to put politics aside and make sure we are doing all that we can to ensure citizens and farms affected by the hurricane and snow are both safe and have the appropriate resources like water, food and backup electricity where needed," said Leonhardt's campaign spokesman William Ward Wyatt. "This will always surpass traditional politicking, even leading into the final days of this election cycle."

Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam, is running for treasurer, and his campaign spokeswoman Ashley Deem said the campaign has stayed consistent, and the state's top priority is ensuring the safety of its residence along with power restoration efforts.

"Mike has been on the road meeting with voters for several months," she said. "One day of inclement weather won't derail his momentum.

"We have had to make slight adjustments to paid media efforts, but due to the early predictions of this storm, we were able to assess and make those changes over the weekend."

Patrick Morrisey, Republican candidate for Attorney General who lives in the Eastern Panhandle, which was one of the hardest-hit areas in West Virginia, said he asked campaign volunteers to stay safe first and foremost.

"We are still working, although the treacherous conditions mean that you have to use good judgment about traveling," Morrisey said. "Our campaign postponed several of the events we had scheduled for yesterday and today so that people could focus on this destructive storm."

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., also suspended his campaign activities to focus on his constituents. His campaign spokeswoman, Kathy Cosco, said the campaign staff has shifted its efforts as well.

"We're planning to participate in food drives and events with the Red Cross until it's appropriate to resume campaign activity," Cosco said.