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A handicappers' guide to the Senate, 2014

Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito's announcement that she is running for the U.S. Senate seat in West Virginia in 2014 has state political observers buzzing.

The announcement sets up a likely match-up between the Republican and incumbent Democrat Jay Rockefeller.

Granted, the election is two years away. A lot can and will happen between now and then. However, you can already build strong arguments for each of the candidates.

Why Rockefeller wins:

* Money: Rockefeller defeated Republican John Raese 52-48 in 1984, but spent $12 million of his own money to do it. Since then, Rockefeller has stayed out of his own checking account and relied on contributions.

As a long-time senator, Rockefeller will have no problem raising large amounts of cash, and he still has the option of tapping his considerable personal wealth.

* Party registration: The percentage of voters registered with the Democratic Party continues to decline; it's down to 52 percent.

However, there are still more Democrats than Republicans and Independents combined (637,893 Democrats, 354,503 Republicans, 217,585 Independents). Rockefeller just needs to make sure the Democrats who have supported him over the years vote.

* Incumbency: West Virginia voters rarely defeat an incumbent congressman or senator.

First District voters did vote out Democratic Congressman Alan Mollohan two years ago, but an incumbent U.S. senator has not lost an election in West Virginia since 1958.

That year incumbent Republican William Revercomb lost to Robert Byrd and Jennings Randolph defeated Republican John Hoblitzell.

* No Obama: Rockefeller supports President Obama, who is unpopular in West Virginia, but Obama won't be on the top of the ticket in 2014.

Additionally, the economy could have rebounded by then - both across the country and in West Virginia - taking some of the heat off the president and his supporters.

* The Jay factor: Rockefeller has always been a political celebrity in West Virginia. His years of service and his gracious manner have earned him thousands of friends across the state.

Don't underestimate the loyalty Rockefeller has earned during his years as senator and governor.

Why Capito wins:

* Red state: West Virginia is turning red. Democratic registration is at its lowest level in modern times (52 percent), while the percentage of Independents is growing (18 percent).

West Virginia has voted for the Republican nominee for president in each of the last four elections. Two of the state's three congressmen are now Republican, and the GOP gained 11 seats in the House of Delegates in the last election.

* Midterm elections: It's common for the president's party to lose ground in midterm elections. Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are unpopular in West Virginia, especially because of their stands on coal.

Rockefeller held a fundraiser for Reid at his Charleston home in 2010. All that can be dredged up in a campaign.

* Coal: Many in the coal industry believe Rockefeller has not been a strong enough advocate for them.

They point to his support of the EPA at a time when the industry is going through tough times and battling environmental regulations. One coal industry advocacy group - Citzens for Coal - has already come out in support of Capito.

* Youth: Capito turned 59 Monday. She's an avid jogger with seemingly boundless energy.

Rockefeller will turn 77 during the 2014 campaign.

Friends say he's in good health, but he has been slowed in recent years by two knee operations and back problems that could make it hard for him during a long, tough campaign.

* The Capito factor: Capito has carved out a position as a hard-working congresswoman whose generally moderate views help her garner support across the political spectrum.

Her big personality is a major asset on the stump, but she also has a tough side that's necessary for success in high-stakes politics.

Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The show can be heard locally on WCHS 580 AM.



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