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State Republican gain hinges on canvass

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Kanawha voters must be seeing "red."

When the state's 81st Legislature convenes next year, the county's 35th House of Delegates district will be dominated by Republicans.

Although incumbent Delegate Doug Skaff, a Democrat, was the top vote getter in Tuesday's election, voters picked incumbent Republican Delegate Eric Nelson and Republican candidates Suzette Raines and J.B. McCuskey to fill the remaining three seats in the 35th.

Skaff earned 15 percent of the vote, with 14,789 votes. Nelson received 14 percent, or 13,313 votes.

Raines, who earned 13,580 votes, and McCuskey, who received 11,259, ousted longtime Democrat incumbents Bobbie Hatfield and Bonnie Brown.

It may be too soon for celebrations, however. McCuskey still could lose the election.

Although Raines, Skaff and Nelson all have comfortable leads in the race, McCuskey received only 64 more votes than Hatfield, according to unofficial vote tallies. Brown trails McCuskey by 235 votes.

The election's final result will be determined by the official canvass of votes next Tuesday.

Kanawha County Clerk Vera McCormick said the county has about 1,100 provisional ballots that have not been counted. That includes more than 430 provisional ballots from the 58 precincts in the 35th House District.

McCormick said ballots are flagged as "provisional" for a variety of reasons. They could have been cast by unregistered voters, or registered voters could have shown up at the wrong precinct.

At 7 a.m. Tuesday, Kanawha County Commissioners Kent Carper, Dave Hardy and Hoppy Shores will meet at the Voters Registration Office to go through the provisional ballots to determine which should be counted.

McCormick said commissioners would make those determinations based on state election laws.

"We give them one precinct at a time and go through how many ballots were counted, and how many were provisional," she said. "We try to get the homework done first so it won't take so long."

She said about half of an election's provisional ballots usually are allowed into the final totals.

Provisional ballots seldom change an election's outcome, McCormick said. But with only 64 ballots separating McCuskey and Hatfield and 171 separating Hatfield and Brown, the provisional ballots could put an end to county Republicans' victory dances.

"I'm not saying it couldn't happen, because it can," said McCormick, a Republican.

McCuskey said he's confident the canvass will not change the election results. He said all candidates usually get votes when provisional ballots are counted, so he likely will retain his lead over Hatfield and Brown.

"It's never changed the outcome of an election in the history of Kanawha County," he said.

Hatfield said she plans to attend the canvass and watch commissioners count votes.

"There may not be a change, but it's close enough it could make a difference," she said. "You never know."

Hatfield, who has served in the House of Delegates for a total of 22 years, said she was "saddened" and "disappointed" when she learned she had lost but respected voters' choices.

"When you run for office, you know you're going to win or lose," she said.

Hatfield was first elected in 1984 but left politics briefly in the 1990s to work as a registered nurse. She returned to the House in 1998 and was re-elected six times. None of her previous elections has been this close, she said.

Brown, however, has been through all this before.

When she was first elected to the House in 1982, Brown won by just 12 votes. The final result was determined by a five-week canvass.

"It was pretty awful," she said.

Brown has served 11 terms in the House of Delegates, though not consecutively. She made a failed run for Senate in 1988 and was defeated in 1994. She returned to the House in 2000.

She said she also plans to watch county commissioners count votes, and may request a recount if margins remain tight.

Hatfield said she hasn't considered a recount yet. McCuskey agreed.

"I don't want to think about that right now," he said.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or zack.harold@dailymail.com.


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