Barely three weeks have passed since the 2012 election and already the GOP is off to a roaring start in the race for the Senate in 2014. On Monday, Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito (WV-2) announced she was finally running for Senate. The GOP has been trying to recruit her to run since 2010 but both times she declined. Since 2000 West Virginia has turned unexpectedly to the right, though Democrats still dominate the state legislature and state executive offices.
In Capito’s way stands long-time Senator Jay Rockefeller (D), 75, and a political institution in the state on par with former Senator Robert Byrd. Rockefeller was first elected to the Senate in 1984, defeating businessman John Raese by a narrow margin. Since then Rockefeller has cruised to reelection every time. Rumor has it that Rockefeller is considering retiring this cycle and Moore’s announcement might be the incentive he needs to take the plunge. On the other hand, Rockefeller has deep pockets and despite his liberal record is well liked in the state.
If Rockefeller does decide to retire Democrats in the state may have a shallow bench to recruit from. The most likely recruit would be Governor Earl Tomblin. Unlike former Governor and current Senator Joe Manchin however Tomblin does not have two full terms as Governor to stand on. He also only won his first full term this year. After that Democrats have a number of less well-known rcruits to choose from. None have the name ID or fundraising ability that Rockefeller, Moore or Tomblin have.
Capito has represented her district since 1998 and easily won reelection since. Until 2010 she was the lone Republican in West Virginia’s federal delegation. The tenure of Barack Obama has not been kind to West Virginia Democrats. Many have had to fight to create their own brand separate from the President’s and some have fallen regardless of these efforts. In 2010, Allan Mollohan (D) lost to Republican David McKinley. Prior to this a Mollohan had represented the district since 1969. Democrat Nick Rahall has had to fight hard since 2008 to hold his seat.
Despite Moore’s early candidacy she may not have a lock on the nomination however. She is pro-choice and voted for the Patriot Act and TARP as well as expanding SCHIP. Like fellow Republican David McKinley she has been cool to the idea of fixing Social Security and Medicare (West Virginia’s electorate is very old). Tea Party groups across the state still expect her to win the nod due to her family connections (her father was former Governor Archer Moore) and fundraising ability and do not see a viable challenger coming up over the horizon. Still, national conservative groups could be her undoing.
The Club for Growth sent out its first warning shot yesterday, saying they cannot support a moderate Republican. Freedomworks, a conservative establishment organization was ominously silent. Jim Demint’s PAC, the Senate Conservatives Fund, has already announced they could not support her candidacy. Despite this DC Republicans remain optimistic about her chances and think the odds of her scaring away any potential primary challenger is high. Said one GOP strategist, “Her brand is well-known and her getting in the race this early indicates how confident she really is.”
Republicans currently hold 45 Senate seats while Democrats hold 53 seats. Two Independents, one from Maine and another from Vermont caucus with the Party. Republicans have a number of good targets come 2014 in the Senate to either take control of the chamber or nibble away at the Democrats edge. West Virginia has just popped up to the top of the list with Moore’s announcement.