Democratic governor Bob Wise became the first governor of West Virginia not to stand for re-election since the Constitution of West Virginia was amended in 1970 to permit two consecutive terms. In August 2003 he announced that he would not stand again after admitting to an affair with a state employee.
West Virginia Secretary of State Joe Manchin challenged Wise for the Democratic nomination, and after Wise withdrew from the race he became favorite for the primary. Manchin lined up support from various sources including labour leaders in order to reverse his defeat in the gubernatorial primary in 1996. His main opponent in the primary was former State SenatorLloyd Jackson, who launched his campaign with a plan to reduce insurance costs. In the run up to the primary the two candidates traded negative advertising but Manchin won an easy victory in the primary on May 11.
On the Daily Show (2003-08-04), Phillip Frye told Rob Corddry that he wasn't qualified to be governor and he only ran to be a nuisance to Wise, because Wise had slept with his wife. Corddry also had an interview with candidate Louis Davis, whose main comment about the affair was that he would have chosen a better looking woman, and that she could use a nose-job, because her nose was huge. Davis also commented on the governor's dancing: "He looks like a monkey on a string, I'm serious. He looks so feminine, you know... effeminate."
The Republican primary saw 10 candidates competing for the nomination. Six of the candidates met in a debate in March 2004, in which they agreed on the need to reduce the size of the West Virginia state government. It saw a close race between three main candidates: Monty Warner, a retired army colonel and developer, Rob Capehart, a former state tax secretary, and Dan Moore, a former banker and car dealer. A poll conducted during the lead-up to the primary showed the three candidates virtually even. Warner won a narrow victory in the primary over Moore and Capehart.
Manchin had an edge in the election with better name recognition and a strong financial advantage over Warner. In the closing weeks of the election campaign, Manchin spent $3.3 million against $880,000 by Warner.