RACINE, W.Va. (AP) — Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said Monday that he plans to run for West Virginia governor, becoming the first — and so far only — Democratic candidate in the field eight months before the primary election.
Williams announced his bid for governor during the United Mine Workers of America 84th Annual Labor Day Celebration in Racine, news outlets reported.
Seven Republicans have filed pre-candidacy papers, and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has announced he’ll seek the governor’s office.
Filing pre-candidacy papers allows campaigns to start fundraising and requires them to file campaign finance reports. A candidate isn’t officially in the race until they file a separate certificate of announcement and pay a $1,500 filing fee. The official filing period is next January.
Republican Gov. Jim Justice is prohibited by law from seeking a third consecutive term.
Ben Salango, a Democrat and Kanawha County commissioner who lost to Justice in the 2020 general election, recently announced that he won’t seek the governor’s office again.
If no other candidates enter the race, it would mark the fewest Democrats running for governor in at least 75 years, although it’s not unprecedented for a gubernatorial candidate to run unopposed. Bill Cole was the lone candidate when he won the Republican primary in 2016 before losing in the general election to Democrat Jim Justice, who then switched to the GOP seven months after taking office.
Williams was first elected in 2012 and is the first three-term mayor in Huntington history.
In 2018, he withdrew his candidacy from a U.S. House race, citing the need to focus full-time on his job as mayor to tackle the Ohio River city’s opioid crisis along with drug-related violence.
Huntington was once ground zero for the addiction epidemic in the state until a quick response program that formed in 2017 drove the overdose rate down. But the COVID-19 pandemic undid much of the progress.