W. Va. GOPers defer to Capito

A number of West Virginia Republicans are considering a Senate run in 2008, but say that before announcing their candidacies, they will wait for a decision from Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) to ensure that should she choose to run, her path will be unimpeded.

Capito said this week she may run for Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s (D) seat and will “put the feelers out” in coming months, especially after her strong showing in a midterm election cycle that saw a number of her House Republican colleagues suffer defeat.

Capito, who considered a challenge to Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) in 2006, said recent Republican voting trends in the state during presidential election years, coupled with her ability last year to “weather the storm very effectively … certainly gives me a good feeling in terms of spreading my wings and going statewide.”

Other Republicans interested in the position say they would stand aside should she choose to run.

Millionaire John Raese, fresh off an expensive loss to Byrd, said he wouldn’t rule out a run despite spending about $2 million of his own money in his unsuccessful 2006 bid. Raese said he more than likely would not run, however, if Capito does decide to get in the race.

“I don’t think a primary fight would be in the best interest of the party,” Raese said.

The chairman of the West Virginia GOP, Doug McKinney, said a number of names are being bandied about as Senate candidates, or as candidates for Capito’s congressional seat should she decide to seek entry to the upper chamber.

McKinney said former state Sen. Steve Harrison and Secretary of State Betty Ireland both have been mentioned as possible Senate candidates.

Ireland’s chief of staff, Ben Beakes, would say only that Ireland is interested in serving the state in “other capacities,” but he would not comment specifically on whether or not Ireland was considering a Senate run.

“It depends on what the political landscape is at the time,” Beakes said.

While Harrison said he “wouldn’t totally rule out” a Senate run, he did say he has been interested in his old friend Capito’s congressional seat for some time. Harrison, a 14-year state legislator — 10 in the House and four in the state Senate — said he would not challenge Capito for either seat, though he added he thought Capito would run for the Senate “at some point.”

Both Harrison and McKinney said newly elected state Sen. Mike Hall has also been cited as a possibility for either the Senate or Capito’s congressional seat. Hall was sworn in to his first term as state senator Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.

Capito said all of the candidates raised are worthy of running for offices across the state but added it is “certainly nice” that potential candidates say they will defer to whatever she decides.

There was some question about whether or not Rockefeller would run for another term because of past health concerns. The senator told The Hill in November he intended to go another round, and his staff confirmed this week he still plans to run.

Rockefeller, who turns 70 in June, will be going for a fifth term.

At the end of the third quarter last year, Rockefeller reported more than  $830,000 cash on hand. Capito finished the midterms with about $270,000 left after defeating attorney Michael Callaghan (D) with 57 percent of the vote.

Capito said she has no plans at present to begin raising money for a statewide run. She added she would like to think she will make her decision independent of Rockefeller’s, but that isn’t the case.

“In reality, certainly that would be one of the factors in deciding whether to challenge a seated senator or go for the open seat,” Capito said. “To say that’s not a factor would not be candid.”

Capito said the 2008 environment should be more favorable to a Republican candidate in the state because it falls during a presidential election year.

While the state is currently represented by two Democratic senators, and Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin was elected just last year with 64 percent of the vote, the state has trended Republican in presidential years. In 2004, President Bush carried the state with 56 percent of the vote; in 2000, he won with 52 percent.

“West Virginia has shown that the voting patterns are changing,” Capito said.

Capito said she is currently focused on the business of the new Congress and won’t make any decisions over the next few months, but she said she is keeping her options open.