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New polling shows Thrasher gaining on Gov. Justice

CHARLESTON — New polling released Thursday by the Republican gubernatorial campaign of former commerce secretary Woody Thrasher shows Gov. Jim Justice’s favorability tanking.

A poll released on behalf of Thrasher by WPA Intelligence and conducted Aug. 13-14 shows Justice’s total favorability dropped from 62 percent in March to 37 percent in August. Justice’s total unfavorability increased from 26 percent in March to 40 percent in August.

“Less than two-in-five Republican primary voters have a favorable impression of Jim Justice…while his unfavorables have increased by 14 points,” according to the poll’s authors, Chris Wilson and Conor Maguire. “Almost half of men 18-54 (49 percent) have an unfavorable impression of Jim Justice, followed by men 55+ (41 percent), women 18-54 (40 percent), and women 55+ (33 percent).”

According to the report, Republican primary voters who identify as “somewhat conservative” are the most dissatisfied with Justice at 46 percent, followed by 39 percent of “very conservative” voters and 36 percent of moderate Republicans.

Justice also saw his job approval numbers dip from 67 percent to 45 percent over six months, with total job disapproval rising from 24 percent to 34 percent.

“Only two-in-five Republican primary voters approve of the job Jim Justice is doing as governor, a decrease of over 20 points from the previous survey fielded in March,” according to the poll. “Jim Justice’s disapproval has increased by 10 points since March. Notably, Justice’s disapproval is higher with men (39 percent) than women (29 percent), while women (28 percent) tend to be more likely to say they are unsure of their approval of Justice than men (14 percent).”

The poll also shows more support for Thrasher, the business owner and engineer who ran the state Department of Commerce for Justice until he was forced to resign in June 2018 over issues with the RISE West Virginia flood recovery program. Thrasher switched from Democrat to Republican prior to filing precandidacy papers in April to challenge Justice.

According to the results, Thrasher increased his ballot share from 5 percent in March to 23 percent in August. Justice’s support slipped from 58 percent in March to 38 percent in August. The other Republican candidate in the race, former Berkeley County delegate Mike Folk, also increased from 5 percent in March to 11 percent in August.

“Woody Thrasher already leads by two among Republican primary voters who have heard of both candidates (59 percent of the Republican electorate) 34 percent to 32 percent,” the authors wrote. “More impressively, Thrasher leads by 22 percent with voters who have an opinion of both candidates (29 percent of the Republican electorate) 50 percent to 28 percent.”

“These data are the clearest sign that as both candidates become better known by West Virginia Republican primary voters, this race will continue to tighten and evolve in a favorable direction for Woody Thrasher,” the report said.

The Thrasher campaign was pleased with the numbers, which came after months of television and radio ad buys by the campaign, plus visits to Republican events around the state this summer. Austin Barbour, partner with Strategic Partners & Media and senior consultant to the Woody Thrasher for Governor campaign, said their effort is paying off.

“The biggest thing these numbers tell us is not just how Gov. Jim Justice’s favorability keeps plummeting, but also how when West Virginia Republicans actually start to get familiar with Woody Thrasher, a vast and quickly growing majority of them will vote to see him in the governor’s mansion. It’s still early, but we’re even more confident now that as Woody continues to travel the state extensively and listen to the concerns of conservative voters, he will generate even more support.”

Mike Lukach, the campaign manager for the Justice campaign, downplayed the results from the Thrasher poll.

“It should come as a surprise to no one that Woody Thrasher has manufactured a poll designed to benefit Woody Thrasher,” Lukach said. “While others play political games, Gov. Justice is working every day for the people of West Virginia, and his policies have led to record economic growth, and historic investments in roads and schools.”

WPA Intelligence polled 509 likely Republican primary voters, though no margin of error was included.

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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