CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — Huntington Mayor Steve Williams on Thursday became the first well-known Democrat to file to run for West Virginia governor in 2024.
Mayor Williams announced his plans to file at the United Mine Workers of America annual Labor Day Rally and Picnic in Boone County on Sept. 4. Williams said he has been thinking about running for months.
He has been the mayor of Huntington for more than a decade, and before that, he served eight years in the House of Delegates.
Many credit Williams for helping the Jewel City out of financial troubles and dealing with the opioid epidemic. Another highlight of his career is when Huntington was declared “America’s Best Community” in 2017. He said in September that he is ready to be West Virginia’s governor.
“To the folks in the crowd, I said, ‘I’m the grandson of two coal miners, and I’m standing on their shoulders,’ and I wanted them to know this grandson of two coal miners is going to be running for governor next year,” Williams said.
But a question looms: do Democrats have a chance of winning a statewide race in such a red state? Senator Joe Manchin is the only Democrat left who holds a statewide office in West Virginia, but can the fellow Democrat shake that stigma?
Gov. Jim Justice (R-WV) won a second term in office with a landslide victory in 2020. Republicans now hold a supermajority in both chambers of the legislature and hold all six constitutional offices. So, can Democrats win any of the big races, including governor? Well, Republicans hold a slight lead in voter registration at 38%, to 35% for Democrats. The remaining 27% are mostly independents.
One thing that may help Democrats is a crowded Republican field with at least six running for governor, with Steve Williams being the lone major Democrat.
“If you get a far-right Republican nominated, as opposed to a more moderate, then I think you have a replay of the Joe Manchin-Patrick Morrisey race for the U.S. Senate a couple of years ago. But a moderate Democrat like Steve becomes more viable,” said former Delegate Tom Susman, now a political analyst on WMOV Radio.
One item that could potentially hurt Democrats in West Virginia in 2024 is the presidential race.
In 2016 and 2020, Donald Trump carried the Mountain State with 69% of the vote, and that type of lead can hurt the opposing party in other races down the ballot.