West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant (D) will launch a bid for Senate next week, sources confirm, setting up Democrats with their best remaining shot at retaining Sen. Jay RockefellerJay RockefellerLobbying world Overnight Tech: Senators place holds on FCC commissioner Overnight Tech: Senate panel to vote on Dem FCC commissioner MORE's (D-W.Va.) seat.
She faces a difficult battle against top GOP recruit Rep. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Moore CapitoGOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election A dozen senators call for crackdown on Chinese steel Overnight Tech: TV box plan faces crucial vote | Trump transition team to meet tech groups | Growing scrutiny of Yahoo security MORE (W.Va.), who is currently considered the frontrunner in the red-leaning state. The Senate seat is open in 2014 with the retirement of Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D).
Though West Virginia hasn't sent a Republican to the Senate since 1956, Obama lost the state by about 25 percentage points in 2012, and Republicans see the seat as a prime pickup opportunity in their quest to retake the Senate.
Brook Hougesen, spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, immediately drew comparisons between Tennant and Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidHeck's rejection of Trump imperils Nevada Senate race Pelosi blasts GOP leaders for silence on Trump Latinos build a wall between Trump and White House in new ad MORE in a statement on her entrance into the race.
“Natalie Tennant is a cookie-cutter liberal more in the mold of Harry Reid (D-Nev.) than Joe ManchinJoe ManchinTrump questions hound endangered Republican Dems to McConnell: Pass 'clean' extension of Iran sanctions Convicted ex-coal boss says he’s a ‘political prisoner’ MORE (D-W.Va.) on issues like coal, energy, the EPA, ObamaCare, abortion and protecting the 2nd Amendment," she said.
She also suggested that Tennant is strategically useful for Republicans, because she could draw resources and energy from other candidates.
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," Hougesen said.
Republicans need to net six seats to regain the majority and have been counting on West Virginia, along with two other open seats where Democrats have been unable to front a strong candidate, as probable wins.
Tennant's entry into the race, however, gives Democrats a strong recruit. She was previously a businesswoman and broadcast journalist before winning the 2008 race for secretary of State with more than 60 percent of the vote.
She also ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in West Virginia's 2011 gubernatorial special election.
--This piece was updated at 4 p.m. to reflect comment from the NRSC.