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Experts: Obama's Unpopularity Lead to Morrisey's Victory

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After having the same attorney general for 20 years, West Virginia will start 2013 with a new top lawyer.

Republican challenger Patrick Morrisey beat incumbent Democrat Darrell McGraw in a hotly contested race for attorney general. McGraw had served in that position for 20 years and was seeking his sixth four-year term.

The race stayed close throughout the night with Morrisey occasionally ahead of McGraw by hundreds of votes. Morrisey, a Harpers Ferry health care lawyer, ended up capturing 51 percent of the votes while McGraw received 49 percent, according to unofficial results.

"For too long, this state has been under attack from the Environmental Protection Agency and overreaching laws and regulations, such as Obamacare," Morrisey later added. "These Obama policies have harmed West Virginia. It's now time for West Virginia's attorney general to fight back."

The reason for Morrisey's narrow victory, some experts say, could be because of President Barack Obama's unpopularity in the Mountain State and the fact Morrisey lined himself against the president.

"Morrisey ran a campaign against Barack Obama and it worked," said Charleston lawyer and political consultant Kathy Brown, who said she thought the attorney general race was the biggest shocker of the night. "Morrisey was only licensed to practice law a few days prior to his filing for office. It will be interesting to see how that works out."

Tera McCown, a professor at the University of Charleston, agreed, saying Obama's unpopularity had a "reverse coattail effect."

"People thought, hey, the president is really unpopular. I'm going to tie myself to the person challenging him or I'm just going to run against him and see where that gets me," she said. "Patrick Morrisey — he's a perfect example. I think that's part of his success. I think he just may have been the beneficiary of those reverse coattails, in part."

This will be the first time since the early 1970s that a McGraw brother has not been in public office. Darrell served as attorney general since 1992, and his brother, Warren McGraw, served as a delegate, senator and state Supreme Court justice until 2004.

"I think it's a love-hate relationship," McCown said. "They have been very successful through the years. They don't always have a large margin, but they do seem to hang on. I also think, again, McGraw can be controversial. There was a lot of stuff brought up right at the end about him using public dollars, inappropriate spending. Whether that was true or not, it was brought up."

George Carenbauer, an attorney at Steptoe & Johnson and an elections expert, mentioned McGraw's past narrow victories and said this year Republicans had several advantages.

"The chief one was President Obama at the top of the ticket and he's extremely unpopular in West Virginia," Carenbauer said.

In 2008, McGraw beat Republican challenger Dan Greear with 50.39 percent of the votes. He won against challenger Hiram Lewis by 6,000 votes four years before.

The 1996 and 1992 elections also were close, with McGraw winning with 51.1 percent and 51.6 percent of the votes respectively.

McGraw's refusal to debate also could have played a role in his defeat, Carenbauer said.

"I think it demonstrated that he was not really an active candidate," he said. "That also plays into the results. I don't think people like that to absolutely refuse to debate when you're the incumbent and an incumbent who narrowly won the past two times. The public doesn't like that you refuse to participate."

Fran Hughes, chief deputy attorney general for McGraw, said the office would handle the transition smoothly.

"The voters of West Virginia have spoken," she said. "We are handling it in the way any professional would do."

When asked why she thought Morrisey beat McGraw, Hughes answered, "money."