How independent voters will impact the W.Va. governor’s race

Earlier this year, the West Virginia Republican Party Executive Committee voted to limit the party’s Primary Election to only Republican voters beginning in 2026. That means the May 14 primary is the last time West Virginia voters with no party affiliation will be allowed to play a role in who the Republicans nominate.

Independents will go out with a bang, since they will play a key role in who wins the Republican nomination for governor. Here is why:

The MetroNews West Virginia Poll released last week had Patrick Morrisey at 31%, Moore Capito at 29%, Chris Miller at 16% and Mac Warner at 12%, with 10% undecided. That was a poll of likely Republican and independent voters.

Morrisey’s lead over Capito extends to seven points (32% to 25%) when only Republican voters are counted (with Miller at 17% and Warner at 10%). However, Capito surges ahead of Morrisey when only independents are considered.

The poll showed Capito leads Morrisey 38% to 27% among independents who will request a Republican ballot. (Warner is at 13% and Miller at 12%.)

Our pollster, Rex Repass of Research America, said “A strong turnout of traditional conservative voters means Morrisey will likely win, although Miller is a wildcard because he has more money to spend. However, if there is a high incidence of independent/unaffiliated voters in the Republican Primary, then Capito is more likely to win.”

So, the question is how many independents will turn out and vote Republican?

One in four West Virginia voters (290,719) has no party affiliation, but not all of them will vote and not all those who vote will choose a Republican ballot. Repass based his analysis on an estimate that about 25% of the vote in the Republican primary will be independents.

Capito is hoping for an even higher turnout of independents, somewhere between 28% and 33%. That would give Capito a significant advantage. It would also be much higher than any recent election.

But voters can be unpredictable. What if the turnout of voters with no party affiliation is lower? Remember that Morrisey was among those who tried to get the GOP Executive Committee to close the primary to Republicans only starting this year, so he knows that he runs stronger among traditional conservative Republicans.

The cliché about elections is that it is all about turnout, and that is often repeated for a reason. In a close race like this one, which candidate can do a better job of getting their people to the polls can be the difference.

Starting in 2026, West Virginia voters with no party affiliation either must choose a Democratic ballot or limit their choices to nonpartisan races. Only those registered as Republicans will decide their party’s nominees.

However, for one last time, independents will be able to vote in the Republican primary, and the level of their participation will likely decide who will be the party’s nominee for governor.

Hoppy Kercheval is a MetroNews anchor and the longtime host of “Talkline.” Contact him at [email protected].