Politicians humble after Election Day losses

This story originally appeared in the Charleston Daily Mail on November 5, 2010.

No matter how much door knocking, hand shaking and stump speaking candidates do, someone has to lose on Election Day.

And although some office seekers lose faith when the results don’t come back in their favor, others are just used to it. These frequent candidates might be out, but they’re not down.

Thornton Cooper, 60, said he didn’t intend to run against Kanawha County Clerk Vera McCormick but signed up when he found out McCormick was unopposed.

“I said, ‘No Republican should go unchallenged,'” he said.

McCormick handily defeated her opponent, however, taking 36,140 votes to Cooper’s 19,560.

“Losing, that’s not too much fun, but that’s like getting a shot. It hurts for a few seconds and you move on,” he said.

Cooper, a 1972 political science graduate of Yale University, says he’s been interested in politics since he was 10 years old. He first ran for office in 1987, seeking to become Charleston’s city clerk. He didn’t win, however, and his 1988 campaign for Kanawha County prosecutor was similarly unsuccessful.

A former state agency attorney, Cooper waited until he retired in 2005 to run for public office again. He ran against incumbent state Sen. Brooks McCabe in the 2006 Democratic primary but lost. He made an unsuccessful bid for mayor of South Charleston in 2007 after Richie Robb stepped down. In the primary, he lost to Mark Wolford, who eventually lost to current South Charleston Mayor Frank Mullens.

In 2008, Cooper ran for U.S. Congress but lost in the Democratic primary to Anne Barth, a former staffer for the late Sen. Robert Byrd. Barth’s campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, though, and allowed incumbent Republican Shelley Moore Capito to hold onto her seat.

While he has yet to win an office, Cooper said he continues to run because he wants to get his views to the voting public.

“I’m self-financed, I spend my own money as a public service to try to focus in on things that need to be fixed,” he said. “I’m not your typical politician. I run on issues. You never see me attack my opponent.”

When he ran for Congress, Cooper advocated universal health care, raising the minimum wage and ending the Iraq war. In his county clerk campaign, Cooper pushed for satellite voting and an updated, Internet-based tax system. He said citizens shouldn’t have to go the county courthouse to look up tax information and then pay for copies. Those records should be online and free, Cooper said.

“This is in 2010. They’re just so far behind the times, and we need to fix this,” he said.

Cooper says he has no plans to run for office in 2012 but wouldn’t be surprised if the next election cycle finds him putting up signs along the road.

“You might say it’s part of my DNA. For whatever reason, that’s who I am,” Cooper said.

He takes issue with being called a “frequent candidate,” though.

“They don’t call the other people who win the elections ‘frequent candidates.’ They just win their elections,’ ” Cooper said, laughing.

Republican Fred Joseph, 72, finished ninth in the race for the seven seats in Kanawha County’s 30th House of Delegates district. He landed 948 votes behind Democrat Nancy Guthrie, the seventh-place finisher, but just 332 votes behind ousted incumbent Sharon Spencer.

Joseph unsuccessfully ran for a seat in both 2006 and 2008 but says he won’t let his losses stop him. There are no “business-oriented’ people representing the 30th District, he said, and that lack of experience keeps delegates from helping to create jobs in the Kanawha Valley.

“I’m very passionate about smaller government. I’m very passionate about the lack of coverage of the outer areas of the 30th District,” he said.

While Joseph lives in South Hills, he believes the people of the upper Kanawha Valley have “been deprived of representation.”

He said 20 percent of the county’s population lives east of the Kanawha City bridge but “they haven’t had representation for over 50 years.”

“I don’t want to leave this legacy for my grandchildren or my children,” he said.

That’s why, come 2012, Joseph says Kanawha voters will find his name on the ballot.

Republican Charles Minimah, 58, took on Democrat incumbent Brooks McCabe for his 17th District State Senate seat. But election night didn’t end well for Minimah – he finished with 21,546 votes, or about 38 percent, to McCabe’s 31,831 votes, about 56 percent.

Minimah is no stranger to post-election heartbreak, however. He ran for the 31st District House of Delegates seat in 2004 and 2006, losing both times to incumbent Carrie Webster. He ran for Secretary of State in 2008, only to be beaten by office-holder Natalie Tennant.

Despite his lack of political success, Minimah said he remains committed to public service. He loves the process. A Nigerian immigrant, Minimah said he never got a chance to vote in his native country. He filled out his first ballot in West Virginia in 1984.

“I’m really truly amazed by how our citizens take the electoral process here for granted,” he said. “People have sacrificed their lives fighting so we can get out and vote.”

Minimah said he arrived in the United States in 1976, when Jimmy Carter was running against then-President Gerald Ford.

“It was really very interesting, how the political process works,” he said. “I truly enjoy it; I truly enjoy the experience. I hope I can encourage others to continue to participate in our democracy.”

He’s not planning on another run but won’t rule out the possibility.

“I have never shied away from running for office, that I can tell you,” he said. “I don’t have any issues placing my name on the ballot. I’ll leave all options open. I’m not going to make any predictions.”

Minimah’s wife, Pamela, is also a longtime office seeker. This year she ran against Democrat Meshea Poore for the 31st District House seat, finishing with 927 votes to Poore’s 2,768. Pamela ran for Charleston City Council in 2003 and for the Kanawha Board of Education in 2004, 2006 and 2008.

She previously ran as a Democrat but says she switched her party affiliation about a year ago.

“I think I was really frustrated with basically all of the bailouts, and I looked at which party was really saying ‘no’. That’s what kind of pushed me over to that side, but I’ve probably been told I have more conservative-type views from day one anyway,” she said.

Pamela said she’s not discouraged by her losses. She said public service is one of her callings.

“I don’t mind waiting,” she said. “I do have a heart to serve the people, and I’ve been doing it in some form or fashion my entire life.”

One frequent candidate said he’s run his last campaign, however.

Republican circuit judge hopeful Dan Greear, 42, said he’s leaving politics for good after his Tuesday loss to Carrie Webster, whom Gov. Joe Manchin appointed to the office last December. He came close to beating Webster, claiming 28,183 votes to Webster’s 28,707, according to Kanawha’s unofficial election results.

“It didn’t turn out the way we wanted. It was very disappointing. When you put that much effort into something and it doesn’t turn out, it hurts,” he said.

Greear, a local lawyer and former delegate, said races are getting too personal for his tastes.

“When your family has to listen to somebody call you a hypocrite eight times a day on the radio for four weeks, it’s not worth it,” he said. “When that is the level, so personal and so aggressive, I’m not interested in that.

“I’ve had it. If this is what it takes to be in politics, I’m out,” he added.

Greear successfully ran for Kanawha’s 30th District House of Delegates seat in 1994 and held that seat for the next two years. He lost a re-election bid in 1996, however, and failed to regain the seat in the 1998 election.

In 2008, Greear ran against Attorney General Darrell McGraw and nearly unseated the incumbent, falling only about 3,300 votes shy.

During his circuit judge race, Greear said he went to every football game and every parade he could, knocked on constituents’ doors and called their phone numbers, but none of that worked.

“I think what we proved is hard work doesn’t matter. I defy anyone to show anyone who worked harder than we did,” he said.

“If the Republican Party is ever going to function in this state, we have to be able to win those races. And I obviously can’t get it done,” Greear said. “The Republican Party has to get a better candidate than me. We have to win these elections.”

Greear says he’ll now “work, raise my family, go to church and play golf.”

“In the grand scheme of things, it’s disappointing. But I have a great life. If that’s the worst thing that ever happens to you in life, you’re doing pretty good,” he said.