CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Democrat Richard Ojeda, a retired Army paratrooper known for his tattoos and populist message, looks to break through Republican dominance in Trump-loving West Virginia in a showdown with a fellow state lawmaker for an open congressional seat.
Standing in his way is Carol Miller, a member of the GOP leadership team in the West Virginia House of Delegates.
Their campaign in the 3rd District highlights Tuesday's contests for West Virginia's three congressional seats.
Republican U.S. Reps. David McKinley and Alex Mooney are seeking new terms in the other districts.
Donald Trump won 68 percent of the West Virginia vote in winning the presidency in 2016.
The flamboyant Ojeda is trying to lead a comeback for Democrats in the sprawling district stretching from the Ohio River through the southern coalfields to the Greenbrier Valley. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district.
But Miller pocketed the biggest endorsement in the race when Trump touted her support of coal and gun rights. She also brought her own political pedigree to the race — as majority whip in the West Virginia House of Delegates and the daughter of the late U.S. Rep. Samuel Devine of Ohio.
While Miller kept a low media profile, Ojeda reveled in the attention he generated.
Elected to the state Senate in 2016, Ojeda became a champion of the state's teachers during their fight for better pay and benefits. The teachers staged a nine-day walkout earlier this year and won a 5 percent pay increase. Their success ignited similar walkouts in other states.
Ojeda also took up the cause of medical marijuana, successfully sponsoring legislation to make it legal.
He offered a populist message that stressed health care and economic issues in a district reeling from the loss of coal jobs. He called for expanding the Affordable Care Act to include a public buy-in option to create more competitive markets.
The district's incumbent, Republican U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, gave up the seat for an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate in the primary.
Trump won the district by nearly 50 percentage points in 2016.
Miller vowed to protect Medicare and Social Security and touted low taxes and regulatory cutbacks as ways to create opportunities. She is a bison farmer and small business owner.
In the state's 1st District, McKinley is being challenged by Democrat Kendra Fershee, a West Virginia University law professor. And in the 2nd District, Mooney's challenger is Democrat Talley Sergent, the state presidential campaign director for Hillary Clinton in 2016.