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Capito will not run against Manchin for Byrd's seat

 

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., will not run for the state's vacant U.S. Senate seat, she said Wednesday morning.

The surprise decision from the state's most prominent Republican appears to make Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin's path to Washington easier.

Manchin announced Tuesday morning he would run to fill Robert Byrd's unexpired Senate term. Capito was seen as his most formidable potential challenger.

Capito gave several reasons for staying out of the race, including a possible legal challenge that could muddle an already confusing process.

"There has been enough unnecessary chaos and controversy surrounding the vacancy in the U.S. Senate," she said in a statement Wednesday. "My candidacy would create more uncertainty, invite a legal challenge and misrepresent my priorities as a public servant."

Her announcement ends speculation that she and Manchin might have mounted a particularly nasty race.

Shortly after Manchin announced his intentions, the key theme of the would-be race became clear: Both were trying to have their cake and eat it, too.

An e-mail Tuesday evening from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was titled "Capito Feeling Heat For Brazen Political Opportunism." It contained three opinion pieces from state media questioning the fairness of Capito running for the Senate while trying to hold on to her House seat.

The Republican Senatorial Committee, meanwhile, knocked Manchin for previously saying that he would serve his full four-year term as governor even if there were a vacancy in the Senate.

Without Capito in the race, Republicans may less hope of unseating Manchin, a popular Democratic governor with a conservative bent.

Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, and Morgantown businessman John Raese, are both weighing runs.

Raese is expected to make an announcement today<co Thursday>.

Barnes resigned from the Republican Party executive committee this week, apparently in anticipation of a run. The resignation keeps Barnes from having to take sides this weekend when the committee meets in Morgantown to hold a contentious vote for chairman.

On the Democratic side, former Congressman and Secretary of State Ken Hechler filed to run Wednesday. Sheirl Fletcher, a former member of the state House who was a Republican before she became a Democrat, also filed her papers. Fletcher challenged Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., in the 2008 Democratic primary.

In the end, Capito's camp was concerned about legal challenges that might put her House seat in jeopardy.

If Capito is re-elected to the House -- she faces only an unknown Democrat with no money -- she could be part of a Republican takeover of the chamber and have a secure place in the new leadership. Capito not only has seniority, but also is apparently well thought of among Republicans in Washington.

"In Congress, I have always acted with one guiding principle: Do what is right by putting the needs of West Virginia first. That gave me the courage to stand up to my own party's leadership and its president to ensure that children have expanded coverage to health care," Capito said.

"And, it drives my determination to be the loudest and sometimes only voice standing up for our state's vital energy industry as the Obama administration has engaged in an all-out war on coal."

Her decision to hold off on a Senate bid came despite successful efforts by state Republican lawmakers and some Democrats who ensured the new state election law arranging the special Senate election would allow a candidate like Capito to run for two offices at once.

But while there is clear language in the bill passed this week to allow dual runs, Kent Gates, a spokesman for Capito's House re-election campaign, said her team still was concerned.

Under another part of state law, a candidate found to be running for two offices in the same election can be disqualified for running for both offices.

State lawmakers reached a deal Monday evening to call for a special primary election on Aug. 28 and a special Senate election on Nov. 2, the same day as the midterm election.

In the law, the Nov. 2 election actually will be considered two elections, a special election and regular election that just happen to be held at the same time. The law was structured that way specifically to allow a candidate in Capito's situation to run for two seats. Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, a Democrat, said she also understood the law to allow Capito to run in both races because the two elections would be considered separate.

However, if a court decided differently, Capito would have to give up her House seat and then would be barred from the Senate race.

There was concern that even if Capito prevailed in such a suit it would damage both her campaigns.

The congresswoman also said running for two offices could break the bonds she had built up in her time in office.

"Even though this is an extraordinary situation, running for two offices simultaneously is not who I am as a person," she said. "More importantly, this is not about me, but what is right for the people of West Virginia."

Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, R-Putnam, helped get the amendment into the law that appeared to allow Capito to make a dual run. He said he didn't blame her from deciding against a run.

"I felt all along that that would be too confusing to the voters and did not expect the congresswoman to run under that circumstance," Hall said. "I wasn't sure, but I was aware as a person who has been around a while, that this put her in a pretty bad position."

He has said the amendment was designed to help the 400 or 500 other people out there who might want to run for Senate but are already on the ballot -- but no one took that comment at face value because of how it might help Capito.

Hall, who had been considering a run for the U.S. Senate seat, said he didn't enter the race in part because he had the same concerns Capito's camp did.

Capito is by far the state's most prominent Republican. She has faced a long string of challengers for her House seat, including former Democratic Party Chairman Mike Callaghan; Jim Humphreys, a Charleston attorney and former state senator, who put $6.1 million of his own money into his campaign in 2000; state Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha; and Anne Barth, a Byrd aide.

But there has always been speculation Capito would run for another office. There was talk of her challenging Byrd in 2006, though she decided against it. Her decision still leaves open the possibility of her running for governor or of running for the Senate seat Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., currently holds, which is up again in 2014.

In 2009, Carte Goodwin said he was considering challenging her for her seat this year, but he did not. Last week, Manchin appointed him to the U.S. Senate, a seat Goodwin will hold until the Nov. 2 election.

Contact writer Ry Rivard at ry.rivard@dailymail.com or 304-348-1796.

 


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