Five-term Sen. John Rockefeller's decision to step down after 2014 gives Republicans a strong shot at winning one of the six seats they'll need to take back control of the Senate.
Until the death of West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd, the longest-serving member of Congress of all time, an open seat in West Virginia hadn't existed for more than a generation. Together, Senators Rockefeller and Byrd held US Senate seats in Democratic hands for nearly 80 years, even as the state was trending increasingly to the right. West Virginia has voted Republican in every presidential election since 2000.
Now, the leading Republican prospect is seven-term Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, who announced her intention to run in November and has nearly $2.9 million to spend on her race. She won reelection in 2012 with 70 percent of the vote.
Some conservative groups say her voting record on federal spending is too liberal, fueling speculation that Representative Caputo would face a tea-party primary challenge. Former Sen. Jim DeMint (R) of South Carolina, viewed by many as the godfather of the tea-party movement, and the antitax Club for Growth have criticized Capito's voting record in support of bailouts and big government. But tea-party recruiting efforts to find a credible primary challenger have, so far, fallen short.
However, West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant's decision to enter the race on Sept. 17 gives Democrats a big-name recruit. Still, Capito is leading her likely Democratic challenger by 14 points, according to a new survey by Public Policy Polling. enjoys a 14-point lead in a new survey by Public Policy Polling, but another 14 percent of West Virginia voters say they are undecided in this race.
Tennant's biggest challenge is the deep-seated animosity in the state toward President Obama, especially his so-called war on coal. In her first campaign video, Tennant tried to distance herself from the president. "When Washington Democrats take the wrong course, hurting our coal industry, I will do everything in my power to stop them, including standing up to President Obama," she said.