"Congresswoman Capito has a long record of support of bailouts, pork and bigger government. She voted to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, for massive expansions of government-run health insurance, giveaways to big labor," Chocola said.
Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund, said his group would not endorse Capito. "If Republicans in West Virginia want to save their country, they need to find another candidate with the courage to say 'no' to more spending and debt," Hoskins said.
Capito defeated two challengers in this year's Republican primary, then defeated little-known Democratic candidate Howard Swint with nearly 70 percent of the vote. She noted in Monday's announcement that it was her largest margin of victory in her seven congressional elections.
She was first elected in 2000, after Democrat Bob Wise left the 2nd Congressional District seat to run for governor. She narrowly defeated Charleston lawyer Jim Humphreys, then beat him in a rematch in 2002.
In 2004, she defeated Erik Wells, now a state senator from Kanawha County. In 2006, she beat former federal prosecutor Mike Callaghan. In 2008, she defeated Anne Barth, an aide to then-U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd. In 2010, she defeated political novice Virginia Lynch Graf.
Capito's father, former Gov. Arch Moore, defeated Rockefeller in the 1972 election for governor, and then lost to Rockefeller in a 1980 rematch. Once Rockefeller decided to run for the Senate, Moore won a third term as governor in 1984, then pleaded guilty to five federal felonies and went to prison.
In the 2014 U.S. Senate elections, 20 Democratic incumbents will be up for re-election, while 13 Republicans must defend their seats. That has led some national political observers to predict that Republicans could take over the Senate -- predictions also made early in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles.
As for who might replace Capito in the House of Representatives, Roberts said he'd already received calls from several potential candidates interested in the Chamber of Commerce's support.
"I have had several people reach out to me about the possibility of running. No one is comfortable with sharing their names yet," Lucas said. "The only discussions I know about it wouldn't rise above the levels of gossip."
At least two Democrats in the state Legislature expressed interest in the congressional seat Monday -- including Wells, who lost to Capito in 2004.
"I'm seriously interested, and I understand the challenges that would lie ahead in a congressional race," said Wells, the husband of Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. "I believe I have a lot to offer, and even more so than when I first ran in 2004.
"What is intriguing about this race is, I believe we are at a point in American history where we all have to come together and make difficult decisions for the benefit of the country, and stop being Democrats and Republicans."
Wells said he had been able to work with Republicans, and had "been willing to take stands on policies that aren't always favorable to Democrats, but were stands to benefit West Virginians."
Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, said he was "seriously considering" a run for Congress, and said he'd like to see the Eastern Panhandle represented among the candidates. He noted that he lives just 65 miles from the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., and could drive or take the train into the city.
"I've been asked by a number of individuals here at the Capitol and a number of constituents in my area to run," Snyder said. "There may very well be half a dozen Democratic candidates. I want to see that the Eastern Panhandle is in that mix of candidates."
Snyder said it would take a minimum of $1.5 million to run a serious congressional campaign. If he decided to run, he said, "I'd be committed to that. I would not be a nickel-and-dime candidate if I make that decision."
Puccio said, "It is awful early to discuss who is running [for Capito's House seat]. Many of our Democrats have the utmost respect for Sen. Rockefeller, our senior senator. They will wait to start discussing the next election."
But he acknowledged that "after three straight years of campaigning in West Virginia, some will start jockeying for political positions for the next election.
Staff writer Phil Kabler contributed to this report. Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.