Democrat Natalie Tennant wasted no time attacking her Republican opponent, Rep.Shelley Moore Capito, after each easily won their respective party primary contests.
Tennant cast the contest as a battle between big money politics and blue-collar grit.
"I view this race as a clear choice between the Washington politics and Wall Street dollars that Congresswoman Capitorepresents, and the West Virginia values and working families that I represent," Tennant said Tuesday night, forecasting what could be a bruising bout to be West Virginia's first female senator.
Capito, the favorite to win November's general election, criticized Tennant's tone.
"I'm not going to engage in personal, negative attacks," Capito said. "She's been doing that from the very beginning, and I think people are tired of that kind of campaigning."
There are nearly twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans in West Virginia, and the state hasn't elected a GOP Senator since the 1950s. But Capito is the favorite to win the seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller, thanks in large part to President Barack Obama's unpopularity in coal country.
The anti-Obama sentiment will no doubt be prevalent in two congressional contests. In the 3rd district, longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall is considered vulnerable and could have his bid for a 20th term derailed by Democrat-turned-Republican Evan Jenkins. Rahall is the only remaining Democrat among the state's congressional delegation.
In the 2nd district, the seat currently held by Capito, former Maryland Republican Party chairman and state senator Alex Mooney emerged from a crowded field to win the party's nomination. The district is fairly evenly split among Democratic and Republican voters, but the Democratic president's unpopular policies give the GOP an apparent edge. Ex-West Virginia Democratic Party chairman Nick Casey handily won the party's nomination to face Mooney.
Many West Virginians view the Obama administration's proposed pollution rules on coal-fired plants, among other regulations, as an affront to the coal industry. Coal is not only a key facet of the state's cultural identity, it's a major economic driver. A statue of a coal miner stands in front of the state Capitol.
Republicans clearly want to use Obama's poor standing to their advantage. For months, motorists in Charleston could see a billboard displaying a picture of Tennant at a 2008 Obama rally. "Natalie Tennant (hearts) Obama," the billboard read.
"The stakes are high," Capito said, adding that her priorities as a senator would be "ending the war on coal" and rolling back "Obamacare's devastating effect" on small businesses.
With more than $4 million in the bank, Capito has built a 4-to-1 cash advantage over Tennant by running as a moderate from the polarized, GOP-controlled House. She avoided a tea party-fueled challenge from the right, despite less-than-enthusiastic reviews of her voting record by well-funded conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity and the Heritage Foundation.
West Virginia's coal industry backs Capito, 60, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $200,000 promoting her late last year, federal campaign finance records show.
Tennant has the backing of unions and abortion rights groups, and she has tried to distance herself from the president by vowing to be an independent voice on energy issues.
A former television reporter in West Virginia, Tennant was the first woman to serve as West Virginia University's Mountaineer mascot. She's served as West Virginia's secretary of state since 2008.
She's banking on her name recognition and outside spending help from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to overcome Obama's unpopularity and tepid midterm conditions for Democrats.
A GOP poll last month gave Capito a 16-percentage-point lead. Tennant celebrated a January Democratic poll that showed her trailing by 6 percentage points.