Despite losing to incumbent David McKinley in her bid to take the U.S. House seat for the 1st Congressional District of West Virginia, WVU law professor Kendra Fershee says her days of public service are only beginning.
Fershee, who threw her hat in the ring and ran for office for the first time in 2018, says her time as a major political candidate is over. She cited the rigors of campaigning, as well as her love for her current job, as major factors in her decision.
“For me, I liked running for office, and being a candidate was thrilling in some ways, but I don’t see myself doing it again because I don’t want to leave my profession,” Fershee said in a phone interview. “I love my job — I need my job — and the amount of strain that it puts on running for an office like that, especially the amount of strain it puts on a family and on a career, is really, really tough.”
“It’s doable in increments. It’s doable in smaller bites,” she said. “To do it over and over and over again just seems impossible.”
Fershee said to best utilize her skills, her future lies in advising candidates on how to “tie their policy positions to values that are understandable, that are relatable.”
“Does it matter if I personally am involved or that there’s some sort of branding or remodeling around me? Or is it more what I can contribute? I’ve been focusing more on the latter,” Fershee said.
“It’s not necessarily about me as an individual. It’s more about what I’d like to do and what I can do well and be helpful to others who are putting themselves out there,” she said.
Patrick Hickey, an assistant professor of political science at the University, believes Fershee will be able to benefit other candidates because she can relate to the constituency and the people of West Virginia.
“Advising is helpful, but it has to be good advice,” Hickey said in an email. “The best advisers understand the state or district in which the candidate is running and tailor their advice to the area. Too often candidates rely on advisers from the national party organizations and networks, and those people often don’t understand the district.”
When talking about Fershee’s congressional campaign specifically, Hickey said, “I don’t think that happened in this campaign, but in the past I’ve seen advisers come from D.C. who have no understanding of West Virginia culture or West Virginia politics.”
Recent data does say that Fershee could be of benefit to West Virginia Democrats because of her knowledge of the state. While McKinley has served West Virginia’s 1st Congressional District since 2011, Fershee’s campaign was able to regain some ground that was lost throughout political history.
“Since David McKinley was elected in 2010, the percentage of voters that the Democratic opponent has gotten has dropped each year,” Fershee said.
According to election data from the New York Times, Fershee, earning 35.4 percent was able to gain four points on Democrat Mike Manypenny’s 31 percent in 2016. Since McKinley took office, the highest a Democratic challenger has been able to reach is 37.5 percent.
Fershee won just Monongalia County in the election, where Democrats across the board performed well. However, she was unable to gain more than 22 percent of the vote in four of the district’s 20 counties.
“We pushed a little bit back against that sort of plummeting number for the Democratic candidates, but it’s going to take some time to really rebuild, I think, a brand for progressive and Democratic candidates — at the federal level especially — in West Virginia,” Fershee said.
Ultimately, armed with new-found knowledge, Fershee said she is eager to get involved in her new role.
“Obviously, there are lessons that you can take away from any experience—winning or losing—and so I’d like to help sort of process those lessons and make sure that everybody who wants that information or who is interested in my experience has access to it,” she said. “I think adviser or facilitator or something [as a new position]—I want to be helpful.”