CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Since 100 U.S. senators are elected to six-year terms, one-third of the Senate, or 33 seats (34 every third election), comes up for election every two years. Nine contests in 2014 are open with no incumbent standing for re-election. Six of those nine seats are currently held by Democrats.
West Virginia will decide the open seat of retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, and it appears clear -- despite groans and protests from extreme right-wing tea party activists -- that Rep. Shelly Moore Capito will be the Republican nominee.
Congresswoman Capito votes with the Republican Party about 94 percent of the time, which is far less than desired by extreme conservatives. Couple that voting record with her limited pro-choice positions on abortion and targeted federal spending (too liberal, say the Tea Baggers) and the congresswoman regularly makes the Hall of Shame as adjudged by the conservative extremists of her party.
West Virginia Democrats could only hope she would be challenged and beaten by a Tea Party extremist (see Delaware circa 2010) so as to ensure the election of a Democratic senator. News flash: That will not happen.
Capito is well-liked in West Virginia. She is smart (Duke and University of Virginia degrees), articulate, reasonable, and most importantly in the politics of today, she is sane. She is not some ideological wacko extremist who thinks the Bible and not the Constitution should govern the conduct of American government. With the exception of abortion, Capito's social views are generally in line with the majority of West Virginia citizens. So she is clearly the front-runner to become West Virginia's junior senator.
This presents the West Virginia Democratic Party with a big problem. Who out there has the name recognition, the likeability, the cash, and the social positions that would enable them to compete against and possibly win against Capito? Where is one Democrat who, in this age of the 15-second sound bite and 30-second TV commercial, can go toe-to-toe with a Republican candidate that, let's not kid ourselves, most people actually like and respect?
With all due respect to our current secretary of state as well as others who are contemplating running, the answer is that no one can compete and win if the election is about individual candidates. If the election is primarily about the personalities (real or imagined) -- which most elections are -- then I believe Shelly Moore Capito will be the next senator from West Virginia.
Anyone dreaming about a brutal negative campaign that can destroy her candidacy based upon skeletons in the closet or other such nonsense can forget about it. I doubt seriously if there are any such skeletons and, even if there were, West Virginians are too sensible to be sucked in by vicious attacks on the daughter of former Gov. Arch Moore.
So is there no hope for a Democrat in this election? I believe there is one if the election is framed by the Democrat with the correct question. Given that Capito votes with her party over 90 percent of the time -- and assuming an elected Democrat will vote with his or her party over 90 percent of the time -- the correct frame for the 2014 campaign is whether West Virginia is better off with a U.S. Senate controlled by Democrats or Republicans.
Make no mistake, the election here in West Virginia can perhaps be the deciding election in terms of whether the Senate stays Democratic or becomes Republican after 2014. It is indeed that close nationally.
Democrats currently hold the West Virginia governorship, both houses of the Legislature (although it is clearly trending Republican), three of five Supreme Court seats, and all but one of major statewide offices. Democrats still outnumber Republicans by a wide number in registration, and we are still primarily a blue-collar working-class state. Democrats generally believe that government can be a positive force in improving the lives of our citizens -- and goodness knows we need some positive forces to lend us a hand from time to time here in West Virginia.