Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) faces some logistical complications as she ponders whether to run for the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D-W.Va.) seat.
The Capito camp is examining whether Monday’s changes to the state’s election code offer an unequivocal answer as to whether or not Capito can run for reelection to the House and in a special Senate election simultaneously this November.
The concern appears to be well-founded, and it remains possible the amendment state lawmakers worked into the bill is not as clear as they intended.
“That’s what we’re coming to realize,” Capito said of the amendment. She pushed back against the criticism that she was the sole impetus for the amendment and praised Republican state lawmakers for creating a “fair and transparent process.”
It was reported on both the West Virginia House and Senate floor Monday that the amendment labeling the Senate race a legally separate election from November’s general would permit a candidate to run for more than one office.
But Tim Leach, assistant counsel in the West Virginia secretary of state’s office, told The Hill that was “the belief of the drafters of this amendment.”
He continued: “Did they accomplish what was reported? That remains to be seen.”
Leach wouldn’t offer an interpretation of the law based on the hypothetical possibility that Capito jumps into the race, but he did say it would be up to the secretary of state’s office to certify her for the ballot.
If she files for the Senate race, the secretary of state could certify her candidacy or decide the changes in the election code do not specify Capito can run for both seats. If the secretary of state decides against her dual candidacies, Capito can appeal to the courts.
A legal challenge would likely break wide open the partisan wrangling that has increased significantly over the past week. The special legislative session ended with Republicans and Democrats accusing one another of politicizing the process. Of the GOP’s desire to permit Capito to run for more than one office this fall, state Democratic Chairman Larry Puccio said, “That’s greed.”
Republicans are quick to point out that every top Democrat involved in the decisionmaking process has been a rumored candidate for governor — Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, state Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin and state House Speaker Richard Thompson.
Capito also launched a broadside aimed at Gov. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in a statement Friday that took some state Democrats by surprise. Capito labeled Manchin’s appointment of Carte Goodwin to the seat a move to further his own political ambitions and compared Manchin to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who’s making an Independent Senate bid.
“Based on the person chosen from the rumored field of candidates to fill the U.S. Senate vacancy on an interim basis, it is once again evident that political ambition was the key factor in the selection,” said Capito. “Gov. Manchin followed the same path as Florida Gov. Charlie Crist did last August when he appointed his former staffer for the sole purpose of protecting his own desire to run for the U.S. Senate seat.”
Manchin officially announced Tuesday he will seek the Senate seat. One state Democrat said Capito and Manchin have enjoyed “a good working relationship” in the past but “that might have ended Friday,” the Democrat said.
It’s also unclear whether Capito would be able to transfer the money in her House campaign account to a Senate run. She has more than $500,000 in her congressional account, but under Federal Election Commission rules she could only transfer that cash to a Senate run if she wasn’t actively seeking more than one federal office.
Both Capito and Manchin have reputations as prolific fundraisers, but the ability to use that cash could offer Capito an early edge. The six-term lawmaker needs to make a decision before Friday’s 5 p.m. filing deadline and Republicans, both nationally and in West Virginia, are working hard to convince her to run.
Any chance Republicans have to defeat Manchin this fall and gain a Senate seat lies with Capito, the lone Republican in the state’s congressional delegation and a daughter of a former governor.
“She’s tremendously popular among Republicans and she’s clearly our best shot,” said Troy Berman, executive director of the state GOP.
Capito said state Democrats don’t want her to run.
“I think just from their comments that I’ve read, they don’t want to see me make that run,” she said.
In a race against Capito, Manchin would still be the favorite. But strategists say if she does run, the race could easily become competitive. Any potential vulnerability for Manchin lies in the national political environment. Manchin’s challenge will be maintaining his reputation as a “West Virginia Democrat” while not ruffling Democratic feathers in Washington. President Obama’s approval rating in the state is in the 30s.
While Democrats control the governor’s office and the State Legislature, West Virginia isn’t favorable territory for the party’s presidential candidates. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won the state with 56 percent of the vote to Obama’s 43 in 2008. And Hillary Rodham Clinton easily defeated Obama in West Virginia’s presidential primary — 67 percent to 26.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, called Manchin “a strong independent voice for West Virginia” in a statement Tuesday.
By just about any measure, Manchin is as strong a candidate as Democrats could field for the seat. He is the state’s most popular politician — his approval ratings hover around 70 percent. Manchin won his first campaign for governor with 64 percent of the vote. He won reelection in 2008 with 70 percent. The primary will take place Aug. 28, with a special election Nov. 2.