CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Federal inmate Keith Judd's standout performance against President Barack Obama in this week's Democratic primary became a new political football on Thursday.
Several Republicans, including former Secretary of State Betty Ireland, criticized the current Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and the Democratic Party for letting Judd onto the ballot without contest.
Judd, an inmate at a federal prison in east Texas, is nearing the end of a 17-and-a-half-year sentence for threatening to kill a former girlfriend. Yet, because of protest votes against Obama in West Virginia, Judd was able to win more than 40 percent of the votes in the Democratic primary on Tuesday.
Ireland posted on Facebook and Twitter that Tennant, the state's chief elections officer, had erred by letting Judd onto the ballot.
"Look, here's what you do," Ireland said. "When a convicted felon files to run for president of the U.S., you know by statute he cannot serve. So, you deny his petition and make him sue you to get on the ballot."
But documents provided by Tennant's office suggest that when Ireland was secretary, her office was on track to allow Judd onto the ballot in 2008.
Ultimately, Judd was not allowed on the ballot, but not because he was a felon or in prison. Instead, Ireland's office didn't let him on the ballot because he failed to send a check to cover the $2,500 filing fee on time.
Tennant said Ireland had even aided Judd's electoral efforts by sending him a form that would allow him to become an official write-in candidate.
After Ireland's elections manager Jason Williams notified Judd that his name would not be on the ballot in 2008, he sent Judd a form that Judd could have used to become an official write-in candidate. Official write-in candidates' names don't appear on the ballot, but their names are posted at polling places on Election Day.
Tennant spokesman Jake Glance said Ireland's office "never once mentioned" in the correspondence with Judd that he couldn't run because he was a felon.
"You'd think that if that was the reason, she would have a duty to tell him that was the reason, yet that was never mentioned," Glance said.
Tennant also took exception to Ireland's criticism, as well as criticism Thursday from the state Federation of Young Republicans, a small but increasingly vocal GOP group that sends out attacks of Democrats.
"To me, this seems like people want to play political games, people want to play personal games with this: I don't have that luxury, I follow the law," Tennant said.
Tennant wondered why Ireland said what she said Thursday given how the office handled Judd's case in 2008.
"If Betty Ireland felt that way, why didn't she take that stand in '08 instead of assisting and helping him to get on the ballot?" Tennant said.
Ireland did not respond to a message left on her cellphone.
The Young Republicans email to the media was titled, "Tennant Wouldn't Keep Judd From Ballot, Embarassing W.Va." The email misspelled "embarrassing."