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CHARLESTON — To challenger Sam Brown Petsonk, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act are unconscionable, and he’s having none of it.

“There are 179,000 West Virginians with a medical card today because of the expanded Medicaid. They would absolutely lose their health care if Morrisey wins his lawsuit,” Petsonk said.

Morrisey, seeking his third term as attorney general, is one of 18 Republican state attorneys general pursuing a U.S. Supreme Court case to have ACA declared unconstitutional, a case that will be heard the week after the general election.

If that happens, Democratic nominee Petsonk said, not only will tens of thousands of West Virginians lose expanded Medicaid coverage, but another 20,000 to 30,000 will lose tax credits and subsidies for their health insurance, and black lung coverage for thousands of former coal miners and their families will be put at risk.

Having helped write the black lung legislation while working for then-Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., Petsonk said, “I’ll be damned if I’ll let Patrick Morrisey take that away from our people.”

Morrisey, who declined to be interviewed for this article, issued a statement saying, “The attorney general wants to get rid of the unconstitutional individual mandate and rein in Obamacare’s out-of-control premiums. Arguments that he wants to eliminate health care or harm those with preexisting conditions are just false. We aren’t aware of anyone who wants to do that or who doesn’t want to protect the sickest and most vulnerable in our society.”

Petsonk noted during the 2020 regular session, state Senate Republican leadership at Morrisey’s behest introduced a bill purportedly intended to protect individuals with pre-existing conditions in the event the Supreme Court overturns the ACA. However, he said the bill was so toothless, the Republican-controlled House of Delegates never took it up.

“It was a complete ruse, and the Republicans up there saw it for what it was,” he said.

Petsonk said he believes the message about health care is resonating with state voters, citing internal polling released Sunday.

The poll of 600 likely state voters, conducted Oct. 15-17 by Thirty-Ninth Street Strategies, shows Morrisey’s lead has narrowed to 49% to Petsonk’s 44%, shrinking from a 52-41 margin in August.

The general election pits Petsonk, a Beckley labor and consumer lawyer who was born in Morgantown, against Morrisey, who is seeking a third term as attorney general. Morrisey, a New Jersey native, was a corporate lawyer and lobbyist in Washington, D.C., before making his first run for the office in 2012, upsetting longtime Attorney General Darrell McGraw.

“Patrick Morrisey is running for re-election as West Virginia’s attorney general on his strong record of accomplishment,” the Morrisey campaign said in a statement, adding, “This campaign is about who is best able to protect jobs, fight the opioid epidemic, keep West Virginians safe and position the state of West Virginia for success in the post-COVID economy.”

Petsonk noted that as a corporate attorney, Morrisey represented big pharmaceutical companies, which he said he believes led Morrisey to “sit” on cases suing pill-mill pharmacies he inherited from McGraw.

Petsonk said that as attorney general, Morrisey also has failed to aggressively take on consumer protection, small-business protection, civil rights enforcement, or adequately address poor high-speed internet service in the state.

“We’re paying through the nose for seriously unreliable broadband service,” Petsonk said.

Petsonk said he is confident momentum is moving his way, saying, “People are looking for independent-minded leaders with a record of delivering results.”

Meanwhile, Morrisey said in a statement, “Now is not the time to turn the reins of this office over to a very far-left, very inexperienced young attorney who donated to Bernie Sanders four times and who supports massive tax increases to fund a Medicare-for-all regime.”

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1220 or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.