As many here may be aware, the Republican Party is again poised to take over the US Senate in 2016. We’ve been down this road before in 2010 and just recently this year. In 2014, of the 33 seats up for reelection, twenty of them belong to the Democrats. In looking at the 13 Republican seats to be defended, it would appear that possibly only three can be considered vulnerable not to a Democratic Party victory, but to a Republican incumbent being taken down in a primary challenge. Those seats are (1) Lamar Alexander in Tennessee, (2) Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, and (3) Susan Collins in Maine. The threat to these incumbents comes from within their own ranks with possibly the seat in Maine vulnerable to a Democratic take over. The “crime” among these three incumbents is that they are “moderate” or “too compromising.”
Meanwhile, the list of vulnerable Democrats is longer due to either retirements due to age or other political aspirations or, simply because of changing political climates in their states which dictate a tough race ahead and possible defeat, especially if the GOP fields strong candidates against them. Another commentator here laid out the field rather well in a post about this very issue and scenario. However, near the end, he noted that one can only wish that Jay Rockefeller, the senior Democratic Senator from West Virginia and unabashed liberal, would retire.
That may very well be the case. If so, it would open up a great opportunity for Republicans to pick up a seat in the Senate. Rockefeller will be 75 when the election is held in 2014. In West Virginia, except for his initial run for the Senate in 1984 against John Raese (please…not him again), he has won by wide margins. Still, he has remained mum about his intentions to run in 2014. His hand may have been forced when 2nd District Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito announced her candidacy for the Senate seat. The ink was barely dry on her own reelection this year when she announced that candidacy. Many believe that she announced this early in order to potentially force Rockefeller towards retirement.
One may ask, why? As mentioned earlier, Rockefeller will be 75 and he is a liberal representing an increasingly red state, especially with Obama in the White House. One has to look at the state in isolation. While it is true in West Virginia Obama has proven to be a consistently unpopular President, they nevertheless have two Democratic Senators, a Democratic Governor, and a Democratic Representative in a District Obama lost by over 17 points. Joe Manchin, the junior Senator, has now won two elections against John Raese by distancing himself from Barack Obama despite having the “D” after his name. He even went so far as to state he was undecided who he would vote for in the 2012 Presidential election, a rare concession and de facto vote of no confidence in the leader of his party. Even that Democratic representative- Nick Rahall- is considered one of the most conservative Democrats in the House. Thus, Rockefeller and his liberalism stand out like a sore thumb on the West Virginia political landscape.
And surely all these facts are known to Rockefeller himself. But despite this, with a lesser known opponent, he likely would have won reelection. The dynamics are the same as in Ohio in 2012 with Sherrod Brown. Although having low popularity in his state, Brown nevertheless rather easily defeated a lesser opponent in Josh Mandel. Capito is no Josh Mandel. The daughter of a former popular Republican West Virginia Governor- Arch Moore- she has name recognition throughout the state, not just in her district. Furthermore, she has a record and a resume in the House of Representatives having first won in 2000 and then easily winning reelection since. She has proven herself a good fundraiser and will likely do so again if she runs against the Rockefeller fortune. If not, all the better.
But here is where the trouble begins. Again, should Rockefeller run against Capito, it will likely be a close race to the end with possible defeat for Rockefeller. Should Capito run in an open race, it is her race to lose. In that latter scenario, the only thing standing in her way is a primary challenge from someone to the right of her ideologically. In 2012, she faced a primary challenge for her House seat and easily defeated the more conservative state representative Jonathan Miller. Given her name recognition, political lineage in the state, fundraising ability, and general popularity in the state, Shelley Moore Capito is the best hope for the GOP to take this Democratic seat.
However, like every year since 2010, conservative special interest groups like the Club for Growth are saying, “Not so fast.” They almost immediately expressed their disapproval of Capito calling her a Washington insider and advocate of big government. Looking over her voting record on some major pieces of legislation during her tenure in the House, we can pick apart her votes on any number of issues. Yet on balance, she is a conservative vote on key fiscal issues and many social issues. Although she voted for TARP and the auto bailout, it places her in the same company as Paul Ryan. More importantly, she voted against the Obama stimulus, against Obamacare and has been probably one of the most vocal opponents of cap-and-trade legislation. What apparently irks many conservatives, including Senator Jim DeMint, is her support for SCHIP, No Child Left Behind, and some spending bills. Again, these votes would put her in the same company as some key conservatives in the House and Senate.
Let us take the TARP vote as an example. Conservatives often criticize Democrats for running away from their votes when it comes to hostilities in Iraq. However, many of them stated that they voted for allowing the use of force based upon the intelligence at the time that Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction. Likewise, current criticism of Republicans- like Capito- who voted for TARP are misguided since she, like Paul Ryan, based their decision and their vote on the information they had available at the time. Since then, in votes that would have amended and reigned in TARP, Capito has rather consistently voted on the more conservative side.
That is only one fiscal issue. It is certainly true that Capito counts herself as one of a handful of pro-choice Republican federal legislators. Yet even here, although pro-choice, she has voted against using federal dollars for abortion, for prohibitions against interstate abortion, for parental notification, and so on. And are we to judge and decide on her candidacy based upon a single social issue while ignoring her stances in other areas? For example, she has voted against expanding the definition of hate crimes to gays, has voted for the traditional definition of marriage between a man and a woman, for school prayer, against flag desecration, for the DC school voucher program, against gun control measures, for strong borders and enforcement, and for voter photo ID requirements.
Yet it is the Club for Growth, Senator DeMint through his leadership PAC and other conservative voices labeling Capito a “RINO.” Even when these specific votes and positions are eliminated, these groups and individuals will say that taken in its totality, Capito’s record is not conservative enough. Actually, taken in true totality, she IS conservative enough. More importantly, looking at everything in totality, she is not only conservative, but is a winnable candidate. And speaking of that Club for Growth non-endorsement, it may be a blessing in disguise. Since they began endorsing candidates in 2002, despite some initial successes, their record of electoral success since 2006 is nothing to be particularly proud of.
Here we have a winnable candidate in an increasingly red state going up against either a relative unknown Democratic opponent, or a Democratic incumbent who is increasingly out of touch with the political reality in West Virginia. Here, again, we have a winnable candidate being pilloried by elements within her own party because she fails their little litmus tests of conservative purity. I would like to know at what point did Republicans or conservatives start deferring to the Club for Growth, the American Conservative Union, Jim DeMint and others? When did this happen? And who exactly appointed them guardians of conservative dogma?
If the GOP fails to win this seat, it will most definitely be the fault of the GOP. We should not repeat the mistakes of Colorado/Delaware/Nevada/Alaska in 2010 or Indiana/North Dakota/Missouri in 2012. Sometimes THE most conservative candidate is not THE best candidate. Answer this simple question: would you rather have Shelley Moore Capito in the Senate or Jay Rockefeller? Any sane conservative would opt for the former. If anything, these past two electoral cycles, as concerns the Senate, has illustrated that Republicans are often their own worst enemies. We need to stop the internal squabbles and all sides and recognize that they have to sometimes swallow a pill that may be bitter to them based upon the dynamics of the race or state. If the goal is to win the Senate and thwart Obama’s over-reach of the federal government, then the Republican Party needs to start acting like they really want to win the Senate.