West Virginia Defection Complicates Democrats’ Long Climb Back

West Virginia Defection Complicates Democrats’ Long Climb Back

Governors’ ranks are near an all-time low as party sets sights on 2017 and 2018 elections

By Janet Hook, The Wall Street Journal

When West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice switched parties to the GOP, the Democratic Party lost more than a state leader. It also lost some mojo in an urgent battle to rebuild the tattered party from the state level up.

Republicans now hold governors’ seats in 34 states—matching a record high for the GOP—while Democrats have 15 governorships. One state is led by an independent.

The West Virginia switch was an unexpected blow for Democrats, who have pinned high hopes on governors races in 2017 and 2018. Many Democrats see those races as a crucial to political recovery in the wake of the devastating 2016 presidential-election loss and the erosion of power at the state level over the past eight years.

Governors will “lay the foundation for how the Democrats will rebuild,” said Kelly Ward, executive director of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, an arm of the party focused on state races. “They provide the leadership in both policy and politics. They are the bench.”

The 2017-18 political map gives Democrats a promising battleground: Of the 38 governors’ seats on the ballot, 27 are held by Republicans, including 14 open seats.

Republicans say the West Virginia governor’s defection is a warning that Democrats shouldn’t be overconfident.

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