Steve Williams announced his candidacy – again – during a speech at the United Mine Workers of America’s Labor Day celebration in Racine, West Virginia. The three-term, term limited mayor of Huntington told the audience to expect an official announcement next month and said he will be filing at that time. Williams also announced his intentions during Huntington’s Juneteenth celebration.
Perhaps convinced that no other viable Democrat will run against him, the current Huntington Mayor has yet to file to run for Governor. The only real advantage to pre-filing for the race is to raise and spend money. Money will be a very important commodity for any candidate in any party in the governor’s race.
In 2020 Democrat nominee Ben Salango raised just over $1.5 million while spending just over $2 million. Almost half of that money was on hand in the 4th quarter of 2019 and more than half of that came from a $500,000 personal loan Salango made to his campaign. Salango’s expenses during that fourth quarter included a host of consultants and researchers who undoubtedly prepared him for the campaign’s official filing date. While he filed pre-candidacy in early October, he officially filed on January 17th.
Despite the downturn in Democratic party voters across the state, Salango had four challengers in the primary including then Senator Ron Stollings and WV Can’t Wait organizer Stephen Smith. Salango would go on to with the Democratic nomination by around 9500 votes over Smith. Salango has said he is not running for governor in 2024.
Stephen Smith (33.8%) came within 4% of besting Salango (38.7%) in the primary despite a significant fundraising disadvantage. Smith had organized and fundraised for 15 months longer than Salango. However, another 27% of the vote was committed between three other candidates.
Ultimately in the general election, Salango lost to Jim Justice by more than 260,000 votes.
The aforementioned “slow walk” by Williams appears to mirror the steps taken by Salango. However, should another candidate like Smith enter the race Williams will need to generate a substantial amount of cash to kick off the primary. This may prove harder with fellow Huntingtonian Chris Miller already in the Republican race for governor.
Should Williams succeed in being the only viable Democratic nominee he will require millions of dollars to compete against any of the top three Republican front runners (Morrisey, Capito, and Miller). All of whom have outpaced Jim Justice’s fundraising at this same point in the 2020 election.
Having a well-known Democrat on the ballot does provide voters with a choice in the general election. The August totals from the Secretary of State’s office show there are 369,393 Democrats – 462,733 Republicans – and 280,296 Unaffiliated voters in West Virginia. Those totals show 105,568 fewer Democrats than during the 2020 primary election.