In that light, West Virginia Democrats see their competitive primary as a positive thing, but Republicans beg to differ.
“I don’t feel that the Democrat primary is going to impact the ultimate result in November because I’m confident that Republican Bill Cole will be the next governor of West Virginia,” state GOP Chairman Conrad Lucas said. “We see the Democrat Party in complete disarray as it’s become highly factionalized as they’ve lost their stronghold on the state.”
Regarding those factions, Goodwin’s entrance injects into the race remnants of an old intraparty rivalry. Jim Justice has close ties to Sen. Joe Manchin. The Goodwin family, on the other hand, can boast close relationships with former Sen. Jay Rockefeller, as well as former Govs. Bob Wise and Gaston Caperton.
A team of former top Manchin advisers and consultants are working for Justice’s campaign, and Manchin effusively praised Justice when he joined the race, though he stopped short of endorsing him.
The rivalry between the two camps isn’t particularly ideological. Instead, it’s often described as more of a friendly split between different tribes. Kessler, meanwhile, is perceived to be the most liberal, progressive candidate in the primary.
“For the Goodwin campaign, it’s a question of how to win a primary in a race in which Jim Justice has staked out the business conservative Democratic side and Jeff Kessler has fairly consistently been running to the left,” said local Democratic strategist Mike Plante, who isn’t involved in the primary. “And so he’s got a challenge of how he defines himself other than as a successful prosecutor.”
Goodwin comes from a family with long and strong ties to West Virginia politics. He’s the cousin of former Sen. Carte Goodwin, who was appointed to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Robert Byrd in 2010.
Goodwin recently finished prosecuting a high-profile case against former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, who was criticized for the deaths of 29 coal miners after an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in 2010. Massey was ultimately found guilty of just one misdemeanor charge that he conspired to violate federal mine safety standards, and Blankenship plans to appeal that decision. Goodwin stepped down from his position as U.S. Attorney last week after months of speculation about a prospective campaign.
More so than alliances, the biggest factor in the Democratic primary is bound to be money. Justice is the wealthiest person in the state with a net worth estimated to be near $1.65 billion. Justice made his money through a vast network of business and coal-mining enterprises, and he owns the historic Greenbrier resort, which hosts an annual PGA tournament and the New Orleans Saints' training camp.
Meanwhile, Justice’s early entry allowed him to beat his rivals to the airwaves in October with a positive TV-ad blitz, and the unlimited personal resources he could spend on his bid will be a significant obstacle for Goodwin and Kessler. Justice also snagged a coveted endorsement last month from the United Mine Workers.