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West Virginia Senate Race: Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant takes on GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito

Poll points to close race in Democratic state where Obama is unpopular

♦By Rich Shumate,

west-virginia mugCHARLESTON, West Virginia (CFP) — Democrats trying to keep a U.S. Senate seat in West Virginia out of Republican hands finally have a major candidate to rally around, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, with a recent poll showing her giving the presumptive Republican nominee, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a run for her money in 2014.

Tennant, 45, a former television reporter in her second term as Secretary of State, kicked off her campaign September 17 with a series of events around the state and a slickly produced YouTube video featuring her planted on her family’s farm and running on to the field in buckskin as the Mountaineer mascot during her days at West Virginia University.


Secretary of State Natalie Tennant

In that video, Tennant — an Obama delegate to last year’s Democratic National Convention who criticized fellow Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin for not attending – took a direct swipe at the president for his environmental policies, which are deeply unpopular in West Virginia’s coal country.

“I will do everything in my power to stop (restrictions on coal), including standing up to President Obama,” she said.

The language in her announcement shows the delicate needle Tennant will have to thread in this race. While West Virginia is strongly unionized and Democrats dominate at the state and congressional levels, it has become reliably Republican in presidential politics. Obama lost the state by a whopping 27 points in 2012.

That deep red shade on the Mountaineer State has given the GOP hope that Capito, 59, serving her seventh term in the House, can move up to the Senate and take over the seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller.

However, the state hasn’t sent a Republican to the Senate since the 1950s, and a poll taken in August by the Charleston Daily Mail showed Capito leading Tennant only by a margin of 45 percent to 40 percent, within the poll’s margin of error.

In her announcement video, Tennant wrapped herself in the images of Rockefeller and the late Senator Robert Byrd and criticized Capito as a Washington insider. In particular, she assailed the congresswoman for voting for a measure that would increase interest rates on student loans and voting against a mine safety measure named for Byrd.


U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito

For her part, Capito has kept up an anti-Obama drumbeat, voting to defund Obamacare and denouncing as “incredible” and “overbearing” new Environmental Protection Agency rules that would prohibit construction of any new coal-fired electric plants, which she said would result in the loss of thousands of jobs in the state.

While the Charleston Daily Mail poll points to a close race, Tennant only managed a third place finish in the 2011 gubernatorial primary, running weakly in the southern coal counties. She entered the race after several Democrats perceived as stronger decided not to run, including former governors Bob Wise and Gaston Caperton and U.S. Rep. Rick Rahall.

To get at Tennant, Capito must first fight off a Tea Party challenge from former State Delegate Pat McGeehan, who has criticized her from being a Washington insider who is not sufficiently conservative.

Two major conservative groups that have backed Tea Party insurgents in previous Republican primaries – the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund – have offered similar criticism of the congresswoman, although they have so far stopped short of endorsing McGeehan.

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