Thursday, October 09, 2014

Race of the Day- West Virginia U.S. Senate

26 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Open
2012 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Likely Republican

This millennium, West Virginia votes heavily Republican for President. Despite that, the state has stayed true to it's industrial Democrat favoring roots at just about every other level. While Republicans have won some U.S. House elections recently, Democrats usually win statewide elections. The GOP had hoped to take advantage of a strong midterm year of 2010, a low turnout special election, and the drag of Barack Obama on a 2012 ticket, but Democrats continued to win races for U.S. Senate and Governor. However, this year is expected to be different, as a Republican is expected to be elected to the U.S. Senate for the first time since 1956. As both major party candidates are female, the Mountaineer State is certain to elect a woman to the U.S. Senate for the first time ever.

Democrat John D Rockefeller IV, a scion of a famous American business and bipartisan political family, has been around West Virginia politics for generations and specifically in the U.S. Senate for 30 years. Despite longtime speculation that he would won day run for President, Jay Rockefeller instead focused on his lengthy career in Washington. As the state became more open to voting Republican though, Rockefeller's liberal voting record was seen as a potential liability if he sought another term and he announced he would not seek a sixth term. Various Democrats, who had been waiting for years to have a truly open Senate seat come up in West Virginia likely considered the race, but most seemed to look at the political landscape and took a pass. The only major name to enter the contest was Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. She won statewide office in 2008, on her second try for the job, but would come in a disappointing third place in a 2011 special primary for Governor. As soon as she entered the race, Tennant was penciled in as her party's nominee, but still 22 percent of the May primary vote went to two fairly unknown Democrat opponents.

The Republican nomination for the Senate seat also did not involve much drama, at least after Congressman David McKinley decided to stand aside. That opened up an easy ride to November for his Congressional colleague, Shelley Moore Capito. The daughter of Arch Moore, one of West Virginia's rare GOP Governors (who after leaving office would spend some time in prison), Capito was first elected to Congress in 2000. For most of her years on Capitol Hill, she was the only Republican in her state's delegation, despite representing what was nominally the least Republican district out of the state's three. For years, she was talked about as an eventual candidate for Governor or for the Senate, but she seemed to bide her time, holding on to a relatively safe House seat while taking a pass on other opportunities to run statewide. Polling indicated she might have an easier race against Rockfeller than in earlier Senate elections against the more conservative Democrat Joe Manchin, and her positioning might have helped lead to Rockefeller's retirement.

From the time she announced her candidacy for a now open seat in late 2012, she was seen as a strong favorite if she were to be nominated. Some felt that she was a bit too moderate on social issues for some in the GOP, but a major primary opponent did not materialize and she won her primary against two minor opponents by about 10 points more than the margin won by Tennant on the other side.

The overall primary vote for Democrats in West Virginia was still a lot larger for Democrats, which speaks to their traditional edge in voter registration, but many of those registered Democrats are GOP voters in November. Capito has led Tennant consistently in polls throughout the general election and not much has happened to change the narrative of the race of this election being a fairly easy GOP pickup. Tennant has tried to stress her independence from the unpopular national Democrat party by stressing her support for coal and running an ad in which she appears to flip a switch and shut off the power at the White House. If what was depicted in the ad had happened in real life, it would obviously be a major national security crisis and considered a terrorist event. A Republican running an ad in which the home of the Obama Family has the power shut off by someone would probably lead to outrage on MSNBC and other outlets, but not much was said about Tennant's attempt. After all, in the last cycle, Democrat Senator Joe Manchin ran an ad in which he literally fired a large gun at a piece of legislation championed by Obama.

Despite all of this, the issue of coal, Obamacare, and many others are going to deliver a solid win to Capito. It may even be a genuine landslide if some polling is to be believed. Calling this race as only "Likely Republican" is perhaps erring on the side of being a bit conservative, but it is an open race where a Republican has not won a Senate seat since before Barack Obama was even born, and where the Democrat nominee is a statewide elected official.

Nonetheless, Capito is going to win and will be changing offices on Capitol Hill. She will have to spend many years though to catch up to the seniority accrued by Rockefeller or even more so, Senator Robert C. Byrd.

Capito campaign link:

Senate races predicted thus far: 13 D (7 Safe, 2 Likely, 3 Leans, 1 Tossup), 22 R (10 Safe, 5 Likely, 4 Leans, 3 Tossup) 
Overall predicted thus far: 47 D, 52 R (net Republican gain of 8)


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