CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Secretary of State Natalie Tennant is expected to announce her candidacy Tuesday for the Democratic nomination to become West Virginia's next U.S. senator.
Long rumored to have interest in running, Tennant began calling Democrats across the state Friday to let them know her plans, said an unnamed Democrat.
State Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio said Sunday afternoon he hadn't spoken with Tennant yet this weekend, but he expects her to enter the race Tuesday morning.
All citing anonymous Democratic sources, local talk show host Hoppy Kercheval, the Washington Post, websites Politico.com and RollCall.com and others reported Friday that Tennant is preparing to announce her candidacy.
U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., announced earlier this year he would not seek re-election. A few weeks before his announcement Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said she planned to run for the Senate seat.
There were signs last week Tennant was ready to start her campaign.
Lou Ann Johnson spent more than 20 years working as Rockefeller's state director before retiring in 2008. In 2011, Johnson helped spearhead Tennant's unsuccessful gubernatorial bid.
Sometime this spring Tennant's office hired Johnson as its "policy director." When a Daily Mail reporter asked to speak with Johnson Wednesday, Tennant spokesman Jake Glance said she no longer worked for the office. He declined to say when or why she left, and did not return several phone messages left later in the week.
Johnson, who also did not return phone messages, was still listed Sunday afternoon on the secretary of state's website as an office employee.
A media release Friday by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee concerning Tennant piqued the attention of the national media.
Friday morning the DSCC, a national organization committed to keeping the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate, distributed a copy of an article featuring Tennant from the Charleston Gazette. Tennant's office plans to return $3 million to the state; the bulk of the money comes from lawsuits settled for considerably less money than expected and about $100,000 in cuts to administrative costs, according to the article.
A DSCC spokesman declined comment Sunday.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee also sent out a statement Friday, in response to the reports of a potential Tennant candidacy.
"Natalie Tennant is a cookie-cutter liberal more in the mold of Harry Reid than Joe Manchin on issues like coal, energy, the EPA, Obamacare, abortion and protecting the 2nd Amendment," said spokesman Brook Hougesen in an emailed statement.
"Strategically, Tennant is great for Republicans in that she's enough of a mirage to keep National Democrats and donors walking through the desert without offering the ability to ever drink. Tennant is far too liberal for West Virginia Senate."
The two-time secretary of state was one of many potential Democratic suitors mentioned when Rockefeller announced his retirement.
One by one, those Democrats publicly declined interest. Prominent Democrats to pass on the chance include Rep. Nick Rahall, former Sen. Carte Goodwin, former Govs. Gaston Caperton and Bob Wise, state Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis, former state National Guard Major Gen. Allen Tackett and attorneys Nick Preservati and Ralph Baxter.
Each left the race by early summer, leaving some to speculate Tennant was the last hope for a "big-name" Democratic candidate.