If a Republican wins a Senate seat in West Virginia, it will be the first time this has happened since 1956. This bit of political trivia shouldn’t discourage conservatives in 2014. Since last September, Republican Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito has been polling fourteen points above her most likely Democratic opponent, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. The same results come from both Rasmussen Reports on February 20 and Public Policy Polling on September 22.
Capito should face few internal obstacles to winning the Republican primary on May 13. Neither of the other two Republican candidates for the West Virginia seat has been publicly polled against Capito or Tennant. Matthew Dodrill lacks media attention and significant (if any) endorsements, and Larry Eugene Butcher has no campaign website.
Capito’s congressional record reveals a conservatism attractive to blue-collar voters. According to On the Issues, Capito has fought against free trade agreements, striking down NAFTA clone CAFTA, and voting to “[impose] tariffs against countries which manipulate currency.” Her paleoconservative trade record has earned her a 22 percent rating on free trade from the Cato Institute, which might vex libertarians but surely pleases Buchananites. Her pro-job platform is a fair pitch for the Rust Belt state of West Virginia where manufacturing and energy issues are crucial.
In West Virginia, President Obama has polled as low as 25 percent, making an anti-Obamacare platform all the more beneficial to Capito. Consequently, Natalie Tennant has distanced herself from the president; the New York Times captured this moment during a December fundraiser:
Michelle Obama [urged] donors to write “a big old fat check” to [Natalie Tennant] and other women running for the Senate…
…Ms. Tennant’s campaign quickly sought to wriggle out of the embrace of the White House, insisting to the local news media that “what the first lady said is not an endorsement.”
Since 2000, West Virginia has swung consistently red in presidential elections. An absence of Republican senators for nearly 60 years can partly be attributed to incumbency. Senator Robert Byrd was elected nine times, and following an appointment, a moderate Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin, beat businessman John Raese in 2010, and again in 2012. Similarly, Senator Jennings Randolph was elected five times, and so was the now-retiring Senator Jay Rockefeller whose open seat Capito and Tennant are targeting. Either candidate would become the state’s first female senator.
West Virginia is one of three red states in which incumbent Democrats will not be seeking reelection. In the other two, Montana and South Dakota, frontrunner Republicans are posting numbers at least as high as Capito. Congressman Steve Daines significantly leads Senator John Walsh who was appointed to fill Senator Max Baucus’s remaining term. In South Dakota, former Republican governor Mike Rounds is ranked twenty points higher than ex-Tom Daschle staffer Rick Weiland, a Democrat whom Senator Harry Reid declared “is not [his] choice” for the Senate.
With a bright future in open-seat red states, the GOP will have to focus its energy on seizing seats from vulnerable Democratic incumbents.