'Comeback kid'? Governor gets unlikely boost from virus

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This image provided by West Virginia governors office, Gov. Jim Justice holds a news conference regarding the COVID-19 epidemic, Friday, May 29, 2020 in Charleston, W.Va. (West Virginia governors office via AP)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Before the coronavirus upended the world, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice was in trouble.

His own party rebelled against him. Federal prosecutors investigated him. Embarrassing lawsuits loomed.

But now some believe that the Republican governor has been able to use his daily virus news conferences to stabilize his reputation ahead of the primary elections next week, while drowning out competitors whose campaigns have been drastically hamstrung by the pandemic.

“The irony is, he could be the comeback kid because of the crisis," said Robert Rupp, a history and political science professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College.

The governor's apparent rebound offers yet another illustration of how dramatically the COVID-19 pandemic has turned life upside down in the U.S. It also reinforces the notion that the politics of 2020 are sure to be infused with its implications, from the presidential contest on down.

In West Virginia and other states, incumbent governors on the ballot this year have been given a daily platform to demonstrate leadership. Upstart challengers more dependent on retail politics to make their names known have found themselves locked down in quarantine for weeks.

Thousands of people tune in to Justice's daily public briefings, which take place in the Capitol but are closed to in-person attendance. He normally begins by recounting the latest deaths, laying out the state's strategy and then offering a confident self-assessment of his performance before turning the mic over to administration officials who continue praising the governor's work.

Journalists can ask questions through a teleconference call but the governor's office picks the questioners and does not allow follow-ups when answers are vague.