Surkamp: Candidate 'took votes from me'

May 13, 2010|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- Jefferson County Commission member Jim Surkamp Wednesday blamed his defeat in Tuesday's three-way Democratic primary on third-place votegetter Ruth McQuade, who siphoned votes from him.

"Ruth McQuade's campaign took votes from me and Paul Taylor was thus elected," Surkamp wrote in the first line of a two-line conciliatory e-mail Wednesday.

Taylor won with 1,280 votes followed by Surkamp with 926. McQuade ended the day with 922 votes in a primary that drew only 4,678 voters, or 14 percent of Jefferson County's 34,000-plus eligible voters.

It was the same in Berkeley County where 14 percent of its 60,000-plus registered voters cast ballots.

Bonnie Woodfall, chief deputy in the Berkeley County Clerk's office, said 8,781 voters -- Republican, Democratic and nonpartisan -- went to the polls Tuesday.


Things weren't much better statewide, according to numbers released Wednesday from Secretary of State Natalie Tennant's office.

Tennant said voter turnout statewide was 15 percent to 20 percent lower than the 26 percent in the 2006 mid-term primary.

Across the state about 166,000 of West Virginia's 1.2 million registered voters cast ballots Tuesday, including 40,000 who voted early.

Turnout in the 2008 presidential election was 60 percent, Tennant said.

Woodfall said she thought some races in Berkeley County would draw voters, "but for some unknown reason they didn't."

"Off-year primaries always have a small turnout," said Berkeley County Clerk John Small. "There was a lack of interest."

Even a large field of candidates (12) in the Berkeley County Council race could not spark more turnout. That race saw the defeat of sitting Berkeley County Commission member Ron Collins in a confusing Republican primary. The commission is expanding to five seats and being renamed Berkeley County Council.

Collins did not return a phone message Wednesday seeking comment.

Lyn Widmyer, president of the Jefferson County Commission, thought that two hot races -- 57th District in the House of Delegates and Surkamp's commissioners seat -- would spur voter interest.

"I was very surprised," she said. "We had higher turnouts for the zoning (November) and table games referendums (December)," Widmyer said. "I don't know why so few voted this time."

She said the county commissioners agenda for today's meeting is light because Surkamp said he would not be attending the next two meetings.

"He e-mailed me and said he needed some personal time," Widmyer said.

In the second line of his e-mail Wednesday Surkamp said: "I need to step away from politics for about two weeks to care about Jim."

Some of his campaign signs said simply: "Jim Cares."

Voter turnout

Berkeley County: 14 percent

Jefferson County: 14 percent

Morgan County: 17.6 percent

Statewide: 15-20 percent

Note: Totals are the percentage of registered voters in the Eastern Panhandle counties. Percentages are complete but unofficial, with all precincts reporting. Statewide totals will be final after vote canvassing, which begins Friday.

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