Political jockeying for U.S. House seat already begins
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Rep. Shelley Moore Capito's decision to run for U.S. Senate in 2014 set off a scramble of Democrats and Republicans who want her seat in the House of Representatives.
On Monday, Capito, a 59-year-old Republican, formally announced her plans to run for Senate in two years. She will begin her seventh two-year House term in January.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., currently holds the seat Capito will seek. It is unclear if Rockefeller, 75, will seek a sixth six-year term.
Capito made her announcement Monday morning at the state Capitol, the same place her father, former Gov. Arch Moore, once had an office and where she spent two terms serving in the state House of Delegates.
Within minutes of Capito's announcement, state lawmakers and insiders from both parties were confirming they might run for Capito's U.S. House seat, which she first won in 2000.
House Minority Leader Tim Armstead and Delegates Eric Nelson and Patrick Lane, all R-Kanawha, said Monday morning they were considering congressional campaigns.
Former state Republican Party Chairman Mike Stuart said he would make a decision soon.
In the Democratic camp, Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, and Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, both said they were seriously considering a run for House.
Former state Democratic Party Chairman Nick Casey is also considering a run.
Casey was looking at the Federal Election Commission website when a reporter called Monday to ask if rumors about him were true. He was trying to figure out what it takes to set up an exploratory committee. The open U.S. House seat is "very interesting," Casey said.
Wells got 41 percent of the 2nd Congressional District's vote in 2004 against Capito. He likes that he came so close and won Kanawha County even though he was substantially outspent. Wells spent only $77,000 compared to Capito's $1.6 million, according to campaign finance filings compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
"I'm definitely, seriously interested," Wells said.
Snyder represents the Eastern Panhandle. He thinks panhandle voters long for a representative from their area and will turn out to elect one. Capito is from Charleston, but her popularity within the district is unbound by region - she won every county in the district in both 2010 and 2012.
Snyder is encouraged by Attorney General-elect Patrick Morrisey's win this year. Morrisey, a Republican, hails from Harpers Ferry, and successfully unseated incumbent Attorney General Darrell McGraw, a southern West Virginia Democrat who lives in Charleston.
Candidates who want to run should probably begin arming themselves sooner rather than later. Snyder said the race would take at least $1.5 million.
Nelson said he was weighing several factors, personal and political. He wants to make sure his family is ready for the run. He said that like Capito, he would be a two-term legislator from Kanawha County before running for U.S. House. But Nelson is also sensitive to the political environment in the House of Delegates.
Come January, Republicans will have 46 of the state chamber's 100 seats and are as close to a majority as they have been since the Great Depression. But every seat counts in 2014. Nelson comes from a district where voters might just as easily pick a first-time Democrat over a first-time Republican if he is not on the ballot.
The same chances for Republicans to retake the House could be weighing on any House member, including Armstead, who would be a likely candidate for House speaker if the Republicans had a majority after the 2014 election.
Armstead said his focus is on the upcoming legislative session but he is certainly interested in the U.S. House seat.
Capito's daughter, whose name also is Shelley, introduced her mother at a state Capitol press conference on the "anniversary of (Capito's) 29th birthday." Capito turned 59 Monday. Family surrounded the congresswoman during the announcement in the Capitol's lower rotunda area.
In an interview after the announcement, Capito said she told her father, the former governor and a lifelong West Virginia University fan, about her decision to run for Senate.
"I told my dad what I was doing - and he has had some health issues, as we all know - but he looked over at me, gave me the thumbs up and said, 'Let's go,' " Capito said.
State Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio and Rockefeller both said Capito's announcement - just 20 days after the election and before Capito has even been sworn in to a seventh term - was too soon. They both made statements Sunday evening as word of Capito's announcement filtered out.
"After three straight years of campaigning in West Virginia, some will start jockeying for political positions for the next election," Puccio said.
West Virginia voters - and anyone who watches TV - have had to deal with regular elections, plus the special U.S. Senate election in 2010 and special gubernatorial election in 2011 because of the political dominos after Robert Byrd died in 2010.
Kent Gates, Capito's campaign adviser, tried to address those questions Sunday afternoon in an interview previewing the announcement. Gates said the timing of the announcement was meant to clear the political air in West Virginia.
On Monday, Capito argued she was reducing voter fatigue.
"They have grown tired of the constant campaigning and they want us to govern," she said of voters. "And I agree it is time to focus on governing.
"For this reason, I have decided to make intentions for 2014 known now, so that I can get back to work in Washington and to avoid disruptive political speculation. It will also provide clarity and time for others to make decisions."
There was also a hint from one prominent Republican that it may be too soon to talk politics. Asked if he planned to run against Capito in the 2014 Republican primary, Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., said it was "too early" to be talking about the next campaign.
"West Virginians endured a long, bitter 2012 election cycle, and with nearly two years to go it's too early to be worrying about the next campaign," McKinley said in a statement. "We're focused on serving the people of the 1st District and doing the job they sent me here to do."
Capito said she is running because the state "needs a new and diverse voice in the U.S. Senate - a voice that can listen and can walk with others to achieve great things."
Several prominent lobbyists were on hand for her announcement, including the heads of the West Virginia Coal Association and state Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts.
After Rockefeller gave a speech this summer that was highly critical of the coal industry, Roberts answered his phone when a reporter called, "This is Capito for United States Senate headquarters."
Capito promised Monday to fight the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has been increasing its scrutiny of coal mining's environmental and public health effects since 2009.
A great unknown in the political equation is what Rockefeller intends to do. Earlier this month, a Rockefeller representative said "let there be no doubt that he intends to ask West Virginians for their continued support when the time comes," but Rockefeller has yet to make explicit whether he will run.
Several other Democratic candidates names were floated Monday as possible contenders for U.S. House.
A national Democratic operative mentioned former U.S. Sen. Carte Goodwin, D-W.Va., as possible House candidate. Goodwin, a Charleston lawyer, was appointed by former Gov. Joe Manchin to briefly fill part of Byrd's U.S. Senate term. Manchin now holds that seat.
The operative also mentioned Anne Barth, who unsuccessfully challenged Capito in 2008. Some sources said Delegates Doug Skaff and Meshea Poore, both D-Kanawha, might be interested.
Of those four, only Skaff immediately responded to a request for comment.
"At this time I have not ruled it out," Skaff said.