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For the better half of a year, the West Virginia Democratic Party could not seem to find anyone to run against Shelley Moore Capito for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Jay Rockefeller. Many political observers said that Capito was “unbeatable” and that any Democrat would have a hard time launching a credible campaign, or even beating her.
After months of recruiting, including passes from heavy hitters like Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis, the Democrats found their candidate in West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. For many National Democrats, this was seen as a saving grace – Capito would not go unchallenged in a race for a seat highly coveted by both Democrats and Republicans. Sure, Tennant has built a formidable operation and has raised some money, but she has made a few mistakes that have harmed her chances of winning the prize.
First, Tennant has failed to distance herself from Obama. If there is one political stock that you do not want to buy in West Virginia, it is that of President Barack Obama. For many, Obama is seen as an anti-Coal zealot who is fixated with launching a “War on Coal”. Many Democratic candidates are now trying to distance themselves from the President, who’s approval rating in West Virginia barely even registers. Nonetheless, Tennant has tried to retread and distance herself from Obama, but the problem is, it isn’t working. Tennant endorsed Obama in 2008 and 2012, and she also stops short of calling for a full repeal of Obamacare, something her Republican counterpart is willing to do, actually 53 times more willing.
Secondly, Tennant is not matching Capito when it comes to numbers – polls or fundraising. Internal polls inherently give the candidate the poll was commissioned by the win. But, every noncommissioned poll since August of 2013 has given Capito the edge, some by 5% and others by 15%. Money wise, Capito is up nearly 3.5 million dollars over Tennant, a deficit that will be hard for Tennant to slash by November.
Finally, Tennant is up against a seasoned veteran who has the winds at her back. With many important political issues dominating the political landscape in West Virginia, it is hard to see a realistic pathway to victory for Tennant. Although her campaign platform has adopted ‘niche’ issues in various local communities, on the State level, Capito’s message is resonating with voters, and the polls – and finance reports – show it. Capito has the benefit of being endorsed by various groups such as the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the West Virginia Coal Association.
Most West Virginia Democrats can rely on a strong union showing, but so far, the union support for Tennant has been minimal. With strong anti-Obama sentiment, a fundraising deficit and lackluster poll numbers, and only 4 months until the general election, Tennant is in trouble. The tide is changing in West Virginia, and unfortunately Natalie Tennant’s political career might just get sucked under one big rip tide come November.
The West Virginia senate contest will have many ramifications on whether or not the Republicans can win control of the Senate. Many analysts have already called the race for Capito, and this would only make a Republican Senate majority that much easier. In West Virginia, Capito’s victory would be a referendum on the failed Democratic policies championed by President Obama, and it would also strengthen and bolster a Republican Party that was once obsolete in a State controlled by Democrats for over 80 years. On the national stage, a Republican victory in West Virginia will send a message that Obama’s “War on Coal” is not welcomed in Appalachia. This race is Capito’s to lose, and if she does lose, the reverberations could be a prediction for what would come later on the night of November 4th, 2014.