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Panhandle judicial candidates dug deep into own pockets

December 02, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Two candidates for a circuit judgeship in the Eastern Panhandle spent nearly one-third of a million dollars in a race that might set a new mark in campaign spending for the 23rd Judicial Circuit.

Judge Gina M. Groh outspent her election opponent Harry P. Waddell by little more than $1,000 in the race, yet both candidates dug deep into their own pockets and spent more than $160,000 each, according to post-general election reports filed with Secretary of State Betty Ireland's office.

Only former State Sen. Mike Ross, who was trying to unseat Sen. Clark Barnes to represent part of Berkeley County, Morgan County and seven other counties in the sprawling 15th Senatorial District, spent more -- $439,570.

Ross easily outspent Barnes, R-Randolph, who reported $89,983 in expenditures, according to a report filed with Ireland's office.

Robert Rupp, history professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College, speculated that the Groh-Waddell race might have been an aberration, considering the apparent outlay of personal wealth by both candidates.

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Yet, Rupp said the spending by Groh and Waddell's campaigns -- each reported a little more than $160,000 in expenses -- was unusual in a circuit judge race in West Virginia.

In the other 23rd Judicial Circuit race, Republican John Yoder was outspent by his opponent, Michael D. Lorensen, but still managed to win a seat on the bench in the Eastern Panhandle.

Lorensen's campaign reported $81,854 in expenditures and Yoder spent $56,773, according to Ireland's office.

"The good news is money can't buy it," Rupp said of Lorensen's and Ross' defeat.

Considered an expert on state elections, Rupp said Barnes' win for re-election didn't surprise him, considering Ross had "baggage" as the defeated candidate four years ago.

Ross lost to Barnes by about 11 percentage points, according to official results confirmed Tuesday by Ireland's office. Based on Ross' reported expenditures, each of the 19,942 votes he received cost him about $22.

Rupp said Ross' defeat illustrates the prominence of Republican registered voters in the 15th district, particularly in Morgan and Berkeley counties.

"What you should ask is 'why isn't someone running from (there)?'" Rupp said. "The center of gravity is in the Eastern Panhandle."

When a candidate spends substantially more than an opponent but still loses, Rupp said those who study elections have to assume the money was not well-spent.

"Money is the mother's milk of politics," Rupp said.

At the same time, "there's an arrogance when rich people get into politics," Rupp said. "They think they're going to get in if they spend."

That isn't always the case.

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