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Republican Jim Justice reelected as West Virginia governor

By CUNEYT DIL Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Republican West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice won reelection in Tuesday’s contest, fending off a Democratic challenger by positioning himself as an ally of President Donald Trump with the experience to create jobs.

He beat Democrat Ben Salango, a Kanawha county commissioner who tried to overcome his lack of name recognition with a campaign aimed at painting the billionaire governor as more interested in running his business empire than fixing the state’s roads and economy.

At an election night party, he said the state is “now poised with no new taxes and surplus after surplus,” and he promised to pursue diversification of the state’s economy, beset by the decline of the coal industry.

“How in the world can we not be the diamond in the rough everyone missed?” Justice said on stage, surrounded by family members at the resort he owns, the Greenbrier.

Justice will serve a second and final term under the state’s term limits.

Justice, 68, ran a low-key campaign, using nearly $2 million of his own money and eschewing meet-and-greet stops for television ads tying Salango to national Democrats. In the final month before Election Day, he championed a bond measure he helped pass in 2017 meant to finance road and bridge projects.

As a newcomer to politics, Justice first won the governorship in 2016 as a Democrat. He switched to the Republican Party seven months into his term, revealing the news at a rally with Trump.

“I hope and pray that our president gets through this thing tonight,” Justice said during his victory speech. “I know it’s a tough uphill battle.”

He said he would work with whoever is in the White House.

Shortly after 9 p.m., Salango said he called to congratulate Justice on the victory. “I want nothing but success for the governor, because if the governor has success, then the state of West Virginia has success,” he said.

Retiree Lillian Cobb said after voting for Justice at a precinct in Cross Lanes that “he gives me the impression that he really cares.”

Justice overcame accusations he was distracted by his companies that have enterprises in coal, farming and hospitality, which he did not put in a blind trust but handed off to his children.

He crisscrossed the state in the weeks before Election Day as governor and held celebratory openings of new roadways. In counties left behind by the decline of coal, he pledged to prioritize economic development, drawing criticism from Democrats that he neglected projects in his first term.

During the pandemic, Justice has often delivered three press conferences a week, imploring more residents to wear masks and get tested and decrying the spread of the virus as “a crying shame.” His color-coded state map showing the spread of the coronavirus in counties recently angered teachers’ unions when he shifted the map’s metrics, with the aim of reopening some schools earlier.

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Find AP’s full election coverage at APNews.com/Election2020