Friday, September 18, 2020

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

West Virginia U.S. Senate

46 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Incumbent

2016 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

 Outlook: Safe Republican

 If there was not an intense interest in the Senate elections this year before today, there certainly are now. As far as the Mountaineer State is concerned though, this will not be much of a contest.

The daughter of a rare Republican Governor and a one time West Virginia state legislator, Shelley Moore Capito was first elected to Congress in 2000, at a time when GOP victories in major races in the state were still uncommon, as were offices won by women. For the most part, Capito was considered a moderate in her state on issues like abortion and faced the possibility of primary opposition to her right when he tried to move up to the Senate in 2014, after having been touted for higher office in previous cycles. That never materialized though. What had happened though was that her candidacy, along with an expected wave for Republicans were enough to cause longtime Democrat Senator Jay Rockefeller to retire. In an open race, Capito defeated the female West Virginia Secretary of State by a massive 62-34 margin.

Six years later, Capito is facing another female opponent, though one not nearly as credible statewide. In June, the incumbent too 83 percent against two opponents who argued she was not sufficiently conservative. The three way primary for Democrats was far more competitive and yielded a more surprising result. 

The most conventional candidate was former South Charleston Mayor Richie Robb who finished in third place with 29 percent. In second place with Richard Ojeda, whom many had expected to take the nomination. The former State Senator is a retired Major in the U.S. Army and looks the part complete with a buzzcut and tattoos. In 2016, he joined a large number of West Virginia Democrats in supporting Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. By 2018, Ojeda had turned on Trump as he attempted to move from the State Senate to Congress. (I have just learned that his last name is not pronounced the Latino sounding way but more phonetically.) Running for an open seat, Ojeda was thought of as someone who could carry enough conservative votes to flip a district but he still lost by nearly 13 points, proving how tough it is for a Democrat non-incumbent to win a federal race in West Virginia. On the campaign trail, Trump mispronounced Ojeda's last name, perhaps trying to deliberately make him sound Hispanic. As mentioned, I did not know it was pronounced the way it is either.

Shortly thereafter, Ojeda launched a quixotic bid for his party's Presidential nomination, resigning from the legislature to do so, but was also the first to leave the mega-crowded field. While recognizing the difficulty of a Senate challenge to Capito, some in the party were likely quite pleased when he announced he would run against her. However, the former Trump supporter would not get past the primary as Paula Jean Swearengin won with 38 percent. Unlike her two primary opponents, Swearengin had never held political office, but the environmental activist had run in the 2018 Senate primary against conservative leaning Democrat incumbent Joe Manchin and took a notable 30 percent. The victory by the staunch supporter of Bernie Sanders shows that those in West Virginia who remain committed Democrats have likely shifted to the left.

Capito is the daughter of a Congressman and later Governor who grew up comfortably while residing largely in the Washington D.C. area. Swearengin comes from a family of coal miners, many of whom died young from working in that industry. The reality is that West Virginia of 2020 has people far more attuned to Capito's voting record and national political affiliation. It is unlikely that any Democrat would pose a serious threat this year, but the liberalness of Swearengin will make this an even easier race for the incumbent and thus she will be the one who gets to take part in an official "swearing-in."

U.S. Senate races predicted thus far:

16 D (7 Safe, 3 Likely, 3 Lean, 3 Tossup) 
18 R (7 Safe, 4 Likely, 5 Lean, 2 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:

51 Democrats (35 holdovers, 7 Safe, 3 Likely, 3 Lean, 3 Tossup)
48 Republicans (30 holdovers, 7 Safe, 4 Likely, 5 Lean, 2 Tossup)


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