Maryland and West Virginia Senate races could tip power balance in DC


HANCOCK, Maryland — Maryland and West Virginia have been intertwined for generations. Sometimes, that has led to land disputes that go as far as the Supreme Court, which is what happened in 1910 when the court issued a 9-0 ruling that held that the boundary between them was the south bank of the North Branch Potomac River.

It was something they had fought over for as long as our country existed.

They have some similarities. Parts of Maryland are located in Appalachia, three counties to be exact, while all of neighboring West Virginia’s 55 counties are in Appalachia. Drive back and forth over the Potomac between the states and it is impossible to differentiate the culture, customs, and the warmth and independence of the people from one another.

For decades, their politics were also similar. Up until 2014, just about every elected office in West Virginia was held by a Democrat. The same held true in Maryland until that same year when Republican Larry Hogan ran and won the governor’s office, to the great surprise of almost everyone in the state and in the press corps.

In West Virginia, that change never stopped. Republicans now hold the governor’s office, the row offices, the majorities in the legislatures, and are poised to win the last holdout seat: the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who is set to retire at the end of this term. On Tuesday, popular Gov. Jim Justice (R-WV) won the party’s nomination for the Senate seat.

In Maryland, the change never happened. Hogan would go on and win a second term and would leave office in January 2023 with a whopping 77% of Marylanders approving of the job he did as governor. The poll, conducted for Gonzales Research & Media Services, also showed Hogan holding an 81% job approval rating among Democrats, higher than it was among Republicans, with 66% of nonaffiliated also approving.

HANCOCK, Maryland — This tiny town sits on the border between Maryland and West Virginia, separated by the Potomac River. Both states held primaries last night whose winners might determine who holds the majority in the U.S. Senate next January. (Photo courtesy of OnlyInYourState)

Even more interesting was his job approval rating among black voters, which was at 81% compared to 76% for white voters.

The differences between Maryland and West Virginia begin interestingly at the South Branch of the Potomac, where Maryland heads east and its population booms in the greater metropolitan region of Baltimore (nearly 3 million) and in the counties that surround Washington, D.C.

In West Virginia, the largest metropolitan region in the state, Charleston, tops off at 255,000. Maryland is the most diverse state on the East Coast, according to census data, while West Virginia is a majority-white state.

Maryland’s Washington, D.C., suburban counties hold the distinction of being some of the wealthiest ones in the entire country, while West Virginia’s McDowell County holds the distinction of being one of the poorest counties in the country.

Maryland benefits from access to power and wealth and its proximity to Washington, New York City, and the entire East Coast. West Virginia is landlocked and has a stunning but stubborn-to-develop terrain.

On Tuesday, voters in the parties of both states decided who they wanted to best represent them in the U.S. Senate. Justice is almost a shoo-in in West Virginia in the now dominant Republican state.

In Maryland, Republican voters overwhelmingly chose Hogan, and Democrats overwhelmingly chose Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. Interestingly, despite Hogan’s high approval ratings with voters of all stripes, the race was immediately ranked “Lean Democrat,” and the racial undertones from reporters were out in full force the next morning.

Politico led the day with a headline that read “Larry Hogan is standing between Angela Alsobrooks and history” because Alsobrooks is black. Compared to the expectations from just a few months ago, Alsobrooks’s win was stunning. She worked hard for it by defeating Rep. David Trone (D-MD), a wealthy, self-funding three-term congressman, in a very nasty primary. Rather than focus on Alsobrooks’s resume and hard work, though, the national press insist on concentrating on her ethnicity.


Yet Hogan’s formidability is real. He was OK with the press and with Democrats when he parted from former President Donald Trump, but he is not portrayed as OK now that he might give the Democrats a run for the money and maybe even win a Senate seat that Republicans have not won since the 1980s.

Maryland and West Virginia’s political divergences are real, but what is also real is that for the first time in a very long time, Republicans recruited solid candidates to run for the U.S. Senate. One of them is almost surely heading to the U.S. Capitol next January, and the other one, well, he has been underestimated before. 

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