Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant (D) easily won their respective nominations for Senate in West Virginia, setting up a likely pick-up opportunity for Republicans this fall.
Capito faced no real opposition for the nomination and won it handily, taking 89 percent of the vote when the Associated Press called the race early on in the night. Tennant, too, ran largely unopposed and the AP called it for her with 82 percent support her.
Though Democrats have touted Tennant’s candidacy, she faces an uphill battle this fall as she looks to hold onto the seat represented by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) for 30 years after he retires at the end of his term.
Capito enters the general with a four-to-one cash advantage on Tennant, posting $4.3 million cash on hand at the start of May to Tennant’s $1.1 million.
The state has grown increasingly red over the past decade, voting for GOP presidential nominees with over 50 percent support in 2008 and over 60 percent support in 2012. And a January Gallup survey revealed West Virginia is the state with the second-lowest portion of residents who approve of President Obama’s job performance, only about a quarter.
President Obama’s unpopularity and the state’s sluggish economy — largely reliant on coal, it’s been hit hard by new regulations from the administration curbing carbon emissions from coal plants — have put West Virginia at the top of the GOP’s list of potential pickups as they seek the six seats they’ll need to take back the Senate this fall.
Republicans landed Capito early, a top-tier candidate whose father was a former governor.
But the centrist GOP congresswoman drew conservative criticism on day one of her candidacy over her votes on the auto bailout and debt ceiling increases, among other issues.
The Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund both blasted her when she entered the race, and SCF expressed openness to backing a conservative challenger in the primary — but such a challenge never materialized.
Though those votes sparked the ire of conservatives, Republicans believe that pragmatism will help her appeal to middle-of-the-road voters in the general election.
And while Tennant has the backing of the pro-female Democratic candidates’ group EMILY’s List, Republicans believe Capito’s candidacy will help them neutralize any war-on-women attacks Democrats try to lob at her. Capito also supports abortion rights.
The female-on-female dynamic makes for an historic race: Whomever wins will become West Virginia’s first female senator in January.
Still, the state hasn’t elected a Republican to the Senate since 1956, and Democrats are enthusiastic about their registration advantage. They believe, too, that Tennant will create a strong contrast with Capito as a Washington outsider up against a seven-term lawmaker they plan to paint as a symbol of Washington dysfunction.