ELKINS – Republican Robert L. Karnes has won the 11th Senatorial District seat up for grabs in Tuesday’s General Election, edging out Democratic candidate Denise Campbell to claim the seat alongside Sen. Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, who also represents the 11th Senatorial District.
One of the most-watched state races locally, District 11 covers all of Nicholas, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Randolph, Upshur and Webster counties as well as some of Grant County. According to the West Virginia Secretary of State’s website, Karnes is the unofficial winner. Although the official winner will not be confirmed until the completion of the canvass, Karnes garnered 23,229 votes compared to Campbell’s 22,018 – a difference of just 1,211 votes.
Karnes was the winner in Grant, Nicholas, Pendleton, Upshur and Webster counties. Specifically, in Upshur County, he received 5,219 votes where Campbell gathered 4,355 votes.
When reached for comment Wednesday, Karnes said winning and having the chance to represent the constituents of District 11 feels “pretty good.”
“I was generally aware of what my counties were supposed to do,” Karnes said. “The early reports coming in from Randolph County made the race look very lopsided, but I was comfortable with that. Denise’s only hope was to build up a huge lead out of Randolph County that I could not overcome in the other counties. I knew I would win five counties.”
He said he was not surprised to lose in Pocahontas County.
“I thought it could go either way,” Karnes said. “She won Pocahontas County by 200 points. I would not have been surprised if she only won it by 100 votes – I knew it would be a closer race in Pocahontas County.”
Karnes said he felt the COVID-19 pandemic had the same effect on both his and Campbell’s campaign.
“Without COVID, I would have knocked on a lot more doors and went to a lot more events,” Karnes said. “She was constrained by the same factors that I am, so, from a purely campaign standpoint, COVID didn’t have much of an effect [on boosting or hindering one campaign versus the other].”
Karnes said where COVID made an impact was from a political-issue standpoint.
“She did very well with, according to my internal polling, people who are very concerned with COVID,” Karnes said. “I did very well with people who were less concerned with COVID. That comes, I think, from the fact that she is a nurse by training, so that gives her a little bit of an edge. Overall, we could see across the country, people generally thought Democrats were a little bit more suited to deal with COVID and the Republicans were a little bit better suited to deal with the economy.”
When asked what his top priority would be once he heads to Charleston, Karnes responded, “tax reform.”
“The single biggest thing we need to tackle, which we worked on a little bit in 2017 is tax reform,” Karnes said. “I am very excited to get back to that. I am very excited, after reading an article on MetroNews earlier, that the Governor (Jim Justice) has tax reform as his number one priority. I worked very closely with the Governor in 2017 on a couple of different tax reform pieces and I am looking forward to actually getting that done now that we have very significant majorities in both chambers.”
Karnes was first elected to the West Virginia State Senate in 2014 but lost his bid for a second consecutive term to Hamilton in 2018.
Karnes said he wanted to thank everyone for spreading the word and helping support him in his race for West Virginia Senate District 11.
“This kind of a win, especially whenever $650,000 and $700,000 was spent against me in this race – we were outspent 5 to 1 – so when you are outspent by that much, in a district the size of Connecticut, you really need the help of a lot of supporters,” Karnes said.
Karnes said he not only wants to thank those who voted for him, but also those who put up signs, waved signs, talked to their friends and otherwise advocated for his campaign.
“In order to counter that kind of spending, you need people out there talking on your behalf,” he said. “I can’t thank the folks who helped with my campaign enough. We could not have done it without them.”
He said he is really looking forward to getting back to work.
“I have had a number of conversations with different senators, and I am very encouraged the Governor has said his number one priority is tax reform – what we worked on in 2017. I think we are going to get a lot of things done,” Karnes said.
Senator Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, is the other Senator from District 11. Karnes said he looks forward to working with Hamilton, adding that he is sure they will work together just fine.
“I have the track record in the West Virginia Senate, and in the West Virginia House for that matter, of being able to work with people throughout the caucus as well as with those on both sides of the aisle,” Karnes said. “I am sure that when our interests and goals align, we will work very well together.”
Campbell said she wanted to say ‘thank-you’ to her family and friends for their support and kind words.
Campbell, who previously represented House of Delegates District 43, said she felt campaign advertising materials released against her marred her family, friends and the nursing professional generally.
“I’m sorry for the pain I caused my family, friends and the profession of nursing,” Campbell said. “What an ugly, disgusting campaign. It is sad that those who want to do good are made out to be the bad ones, but the people believed and voted for who they wanted to represent them, and that is their choice.”
Karnes’s term is for four years and he succeeds former Senator John R. Pitsenbarger, R-Nicholas, whom he beat in the May primary election. Pitsenbarger was appointed to replace former Senator Greg Boso, R-Nicholas. Boso tendered his resignation effective Sept. 26, 2019 after accepting a job with a forensic engineering group which required additional travel.