Ending the night with around 50 percent of the vote, Greenbrier Resort owner Jim Justice was the clear winner for the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor after Tuesday’s primaries.
The billionaire thanked his family and his fellow candidates, former U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, but quickly shifted his focus to the general election and his new opponent, Republican Senate President Bill Cole during his victory speech.
“There is a big contrast between me and a governor that’s a politician,” Justice told the few hundred supporters who gathered in the Greenbrier ballroom.
“If you elect another politician to the head of the line, to the biggest office in our state, this is going to be terribly blunt, but you and I will die 50th.”
Cole—who has always separated himself from other politicians at the statehouse by casting himself as a businessman, not a lawmaker—anticipated the attack earlier in the evening.
“I’m not a career politician, I’m a one-term state senator who happened to move up to senate presidency for the past two years,” he said in an interview after his primary win.
“I think I’ve proven that I can lead and I can deliver from a government standpoint, but one term. I’m up or out. I’m either Governor Cole or I’m citizen Cole, so no one will ever accuse me of being a career politician.”
But it was more than just Cole who Justice attacked Tuesday night. He went after the Republican-controlled Legislature as a whole, criticizing them for not being able to pass a budget when they have a majority in both chambers.
Justice made it clear, his message heading into the general election will focus on Cole’s ties to a “dysfunctional Legislature.”
“Bill Cole and the Republicans and what they’ve done in their tenure, in recent times, a lot of people that aren’t happy and a lot of people that have been hurt and so those people will stand up with a real voice,” he said.
Justice committed to campaigning with down ticket candidates to help ensure Democrats retake control of both the House and Senate chambers.
What he won’t do though, campaign with the likely presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket, Hillary Clinton.
“I am not interested in what’s going on on the presidential scene today at all,” he said, “and there is no chance in the world that I will back anybody for president that is not supportive of our state, not supportive of our energy sector and not supportive of our coal miners.”
That is where Justice diverges from his major supporters.
Senator Joe Manchin, former Governor Gaston Caperton, as well as many other organizations and unions across the state who back Justice are also backing Clinton.
Both Manchin and Caperton have endorsed the former Secretary of State, and Manchin said he sees no contradiction in his support for both candidates, but Justice is clear, among his many campaign platforms, he’s sticking with coal.
“I am not going to go out and endorse anyone that is really not willing to go out and stand for us today,” Justice said.
With a big win for Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders in West Virginia Tuesday, separating himself from Clinton may be a way to pick up voters who are considering crossing the aisle and casting a ballot for Republican Donald Trump.
A Republican until he decided to run for governor, Justice’s outsider message and straight forward campaign platforms may pull the same support the state will likely give Trump in the fall.