CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A new poll shows Secretary of State Natalie Tennant comfortably ahead of potential Democratic primary challengers, should she run for U.S. Senate.
Tennant has not announced her intentions, but 40 percent of Democratic voters polled said they would favor her in a Senate primary, according to data from Republican pollster Mark Blankenship of Charleston.
"The Democratic field hasn't taken shape yet, but among the most discussed potential candidates, Tennant certainly should be considered to hold the position of strength," Blankenship said in a news release.
The candidate with the second-most votes, state Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis, was the choice of 12 percent of respondents. Attorneys Nick Preservati and Ralph Baxter each received 1 percent. Close to 38 percent of Democratic respondents were undecided.
If Davis were to win the primary, Blankenship's results indicate she would be walloped by U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., in a general election.
Capito, who announced her intention to run for the seat in late 2012, was favored by 51 percent of the respondents to Davis' 32 percent. About 18 percent of those polled said they were undecided.
Some officials were quick to question the poll. Among others, House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison, questioned on Twitter why Blankenship didn't poll people on a potential race between Tennant and Capito.
Tennant wasn't included as a possible candidate in his last poll, Blankenship said. At the time, U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., was considered the strongest candidate for the Democrats if he decided to go for the seat. Davis had the second-most support in the poll.
When Rahall said he would seek re-election for his current seat, Blankenship said it made sense to pit Davis against Capito.
"Given the strength Secretary of State Tennant showed in this survey, we will probably in one of our upcoming surveys .<\!p>.<\!p>. unless the field shakes out more, we will include her in a head-to-head versus Capito," Blankenship said Wednesday.
Preservati said in a phone interview Wednesday he has not made a final decision on whether to mount a campaign.
Tennant did not respond to a request for comment. Davis did not return a recent phone message.
Although the poll shows U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has lost favor in the last two months, it also shows 67 percent of respondents support his measure calling for more background checks for gun purchases.
Manchin's approval rating dropped 7 percentage points, from 70 percent to 63 percent, from the survey Blankenship conducted in March. That represents a 10 percent drop among Independents, 8 percent among Democrats and 5 percent among Republicans. Blankenship called the shift noteworthy but said the rating still was solid.
About 54 percent of those polled gave Capito a favorable nod. That was a 10-point drop from the last Blankenship poll.
Blankenship said both Capito and Manchin still should be pleased with their approval ratings.
Almost 70 percent of those polled support the job Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has done. That was the same number reflected by the March poll.
Poll participants were asked if they "support or oppose Sen. Joe Manchin's gun control legislation that includes extended background checks for gun buyers."
Almost half, 48 percent, said they strongly support the idea, with another 19 percent saying they somewhat support it and 7 percent saying they somewhat oppose it. About 23 percent of those polled said they strongly oppose the idea.
"Voters of his party mostly approve of his gun control legislation while Republicans and Independents are less likely to support it," Blankenship said in the release.
"This is interesting because Sen. Manchin has typically enjoyed strong numbers among Republicans and Independents, and if he loses support among those two groups, his overall approval number is likely to decrease," he said.
Blankenship's company interviewed 406 people who said they were registered voters. The interviews took place between May 1 and 2. Blankenship's company funded the survey.Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.bouc...@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.