Democrat Alan Mollohan became the first member of the U.S. House to be ousted this spring primary season after his opponent mounted a campaign that questioned the 14-term congressman's ethics and support for federal health care reform.
Mollohan conceded after unofficial returns showed that with 82 percent of precincts reporting, state Sen. Mike Oliverio was ahead 56 percent to 44 percent. It ends his 28 years in the House.
Mollohan was dogged by ethical questions, and the more conservative Oliverio ran an aggressive campaign portraying him as corrupt and out of touch. Conservative media rallied around Oliverio, along with anti-abortion groups angry over Mollohan's support of health care reform.
Oliverio will face former state delegate and Republican Party chairman David McKinley in November's general election.
Mollohan was first elected in 1982. He ran a relatively lethargic campaign until recent weeks, when he began airing TV ads calling Oliverio dangerously conservative and bad for business and labor. Oliverio, in contrast, had campaigned aggressively since entering the race in January.
Mollohan dismissed the attacks as a smear campaign that began four years ago when he refused to let House Republicans undermine ethics committee rules to try to protect former Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas.
In 2006, the Justice Department opened an investigation of Mollohan that is believed to have focused on the rapid growth of his personal wealth and his pattern of securing federal funds for nonprofits he helped create.
Mollohan, 66, stepped down as the ranking Democrat on the House ethics committee that April and stepped aside in early 2007 from a subcommittee that handles funding for the Justice Department.
The investigation ended in January without comment or charges — which Mollohan considered vindication.
The ethics probe was also a focal point of the Republican effort to defeat Mollohan in 2006, but he carried 64 percent of the vote. In 2008, he was unopposed.
Oliverio, a 46-year-old financial adviser from Morgantown, insisted he was the Democratic Party's best hope at securing the seat it has held for generations.
Mollohan defended his record, arguing that most of his constituents wanted the reform he has championed for years. He said he worked hard to ensure no public funds are used for abortions and is confident the legislation achieved that, even though the National Right to Life Political Action Committee endorsed Oliverio.