MORGANTOWN — Morgantown resident and WVU law professor Kendra Fershee’s victory in the U.S. House of Representatives 1st District Democratic primary surprised many, but not her.
“We really focused on the grassroots,” she said Wednesday. “Money is only good if it gets the message out.” Her campaign chose another route: She took her message directly to her audience via social media and in person, putting 10,000 miles on the family car. “I made a singular effort and got out to talk to people as much as possible.”
In the three-way race, Fershee (she pronounces it fer-SHAY) tallied 23,030 votes (47.29 percent); retired Wheeling attorney Ralph Baxter notched 18,542 votes (38.07 percent); Keyser resident Tom Payne, a retired Army officer and business executive, tallied 7,131 votes (14.64 percent).
Fershee said she entered the race to win, but the vote margin did surprise her. “I didn’t expect it to be as wide as it was. … I’m still trying to process it.”
Based on campaign financing, many considered Baxter the frontrunner. During the primary season, through April 18 (the most recent federal reporting period), Baxter spent $265,063.74.
Fershee spent only 4 percent of that, $10,719.71. Payne didn’t file any finance reports.
Baxter won just six counties — in his Northern Panhandle and along the Ohio River: Hancock, Brooke, Ohio, Marshall, Wetzel, Tyler and Pleasants.
Fershee won 10, including the high-tech corridor: Monongalia, Marion, Preston, Harrison, Wood, Ritchie, Gilmer, Doddridge, Barbour and Taylor.
Payne won three counties in his area: Mineral, Grant and Tucker. But in all three, Fershee took a solid second over Baxter.
Fershee said her message resonated: freedom, universal healthcare, supporting public schools, and a stable, diversified economy. “The messaging was exactly what people hope of their leaders and they heard the message.”
Moving forward, into the general election race against incumbent Republican David McKinley, “I need to show my future constituents that I’ll be there if they need me. … I’ll be there to listen.”
She wants to raise more money this go-round, but keep the grassroots effort. And she wants to embrace the supporters of her primary opponents. “There’s no one I don’t want on board.”
They share a common interest in solving West Virginia’s problems, Fershee said. “It’s not controversial to say we’re in a healthcare crisis and need healthcare for everyone.”
She continued, “Our freedom is at risk if we don’t feel like we can choose where we want to live.” Some West Virginians feel like they have to leave to make a life for themselves.