West Virginia’s 3rd District doesn’t seem like a district that should be competitive. It should be an easy Republican hold. After all, President Trump won the 3rd District, anchored by Huntington, by 49 percentage points, and the district’s FiveThirtyEight partisan lean1 is R+37, meaning it is 37 points more Republican than the country as a whole. In fact, the West Virginia 3rd is one of the 50 most GOP-leaning seats in the country, according to our calculations. Yet the election prognosticators have tagged the race as “Lean Republican” or even a “Toss-up,” and nonpartisan polls have found mixed results since the May primary.
So how did such a deeply Republican seat become competitive? For one thing, it’s an open seat held by the presidential party, which can make it particularly susceptible to large swings in party vote share. The seat’s incumbent, Evan Jenkins, ran for a U.S. Senate seat instead of seeking re-election, so the 3rd is among the 41 seats Republicans are defending where the incumbent either retired, ran for another office or lost renomination.2 Another crucial factor is the cross-party appeal of state Sen. Richard Ojeda, the Democratic nominee, and his in-your-face populism. We know Ojeda could be a real threat because he won his state Senate district 59 percent to 41 percent in 2016, even as it backed Trump 78 percent to 19 percent.3
Despite all that, the “Classic” version of FiveThirtyEight’s House forecast currently gives Ojeda’s GOP opponent, state Delegate Carol Miller, around a 9 in 10 chance of winning — making West Virginia’s 3rd one of the districts where our forecast most disagrees with election handicappers. Our “Lite” forecast, which tries to rely as much