West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice's party switch, from Democratic to Republican, gives the Republican Party 34 governorships, the highest number it has controlled since the early 1920s.
Of course, a party doesn't get electoral votes for electing governors, and many states — West Virginia among them — have elected governors of one party while voting regularly for presidents of the other. That's West Virginia's 20th century history, for example. Between 1932 and 1996, it voted Republican for president only three times, for landslide re-election winners in 1956, 1972 and 1984. But it elected Republican governors five times in this period —Arch Moore, father of current Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (1968, 1972, 1984) and Cecil Underwood (1956, 1996).
Why did Justice switch? One reason might be that West Virginia is tilting heavily Republican these days. It voted 68 to 26 percent for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, for example, the widest margin for a presidential candidate of either party in West Virginia history. That was also Trump's biggest percentage margin in any state.
Justice won on the same day, running on the Democratic ticket, but only by a 7 percent margin. That's slightly better than the 50 to 47 percent margin for Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin in the 2011 special election to replace Democrat Joe Manchin, who had been elected to the Senate. But it's nothing like the 60-plus percentage victories that Manchin had rolled up as a Democratic governor candidate in 2004 and 2008.
Another possible motive: Justice may just want to get along better with a legislature long controlled by Democrats but now lopsidedly Repulican (22-12 in the Senate, 63-36-1 in the House). Another possibility: He's reputed to be a Trump pal. Like Trump, he owns a famous golf course, at the Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia, where Sam Snead was club pro for many years.
The biggest reverberation may be on the 2018 Senate race. Joe Manchin was elected to the Senate as a Democrat in 2010 (to fill the term vacated by the death of Robert Byrd) in a 53 to 43 percent final and elected to a full term in 2012 with 61 percent. But Capito won the other seat in 2014 by a similar margin, and it would obviously be easier for Manchin to win as a Republican than a Democrat.
That may be awkward, as he's been lining up with all other Democratic senators on many issues, including healthcare. But will he want to buck Trump in a state the president carried with 68 percent of the vote (and where he's got a rally today?) I wouldn't bet too heavily on it.