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Maryland GOP veteran Mooney a newcomer to W.Va. politics

By David Gutman, Staff writer
Republican nominee in West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District, was raised in Maryland and was that state’s Republican Party chairman just 15 months ago.">
AP file photo
Alex Mooney, the Republican nominee in West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District, was raised in Maryland and was that state’s Republican Party chairman just 15 months ago.

Alex Mooney has run for the state House of Representatives, he served as a congressional aide, he was a state delegate to the Republican National Convention, he was a state senator for 12 years, he chaired the state Republican Party for two years and, two years ago, he started to run for Congress before deciding against it. He has the background to run for Congress. Except all of that happened in other states.

Mooney, the Republican nominee in West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District, was born in Washington, D.C., raised in Maryland and was the chairman of the Maryland Republican Party as recently as 15 months ago.

He will face Nick Casey, a former chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, in November’s general election.

In early 2013, Mooney moved the 27 miles from Frederick, Maryland, to Charles Town, West Virginia.

In a campaign ad, Mooney, whose mother fled Cuba when she was 21, says he “came to West Virginia to live in freedom.” He also, it seems, came to West Virginia to run for Congress.

“He’s wanted to run for Congress for a while,” said Joe Cluster, the current executive director of the Maryland Republican Party. “He saw an opportunity in West Virginia, and he took advantage.”

Mooney’s former Republican colleagues in Maryland describe him as bright, hard working, well prepared and a strong conservative voice. Many also said he’s long had his sights set on higher office and wasn’t necessarily tied to his home state, where the Democratic Party is overwhelmingly in control.

“He’s very conservative, he’s extremely pro-business,” said Republican state Sen. Nancy Jacobs, who has served for 20 years in the Maryland Senate. “I think he realized that there’s not a whole lot left that we Republicans can do in Maryland, unless there’s a massive change in who’s in office.”

Mooney, through his campaign manager, declined interview requests.

“Alex and his wife moved to West Virginia because they wanted to raise their two children in a state that shares their values,” Nick Clemens, Mooney’s campaign manager, said in an email. “In Congress, Alex will fight to protect West Virginia’s conservative values and coal jobs and make sure West Virginia continues to be the kind of place to which other families want to move.”

Mooney began his political career in 1992, when, as a senior at Dartmouth College, he ran for the New Hampshire House of Representatives. He finished third in the Republican primary, qualifying him for the general election, but in a Democrat-leaning district, he finished last out of seven candidates in the general election.

After college, he stayed in politics, as an aide to Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., briefly as a legislative analyst for national Republicans, and then for the Council for National Policy Action, a conservative lobbying group.

In 1998, at age 27, he was elected to the Maryland Senate, where he would serve three four-year terms.

“You kind of could tell he was kind of a major leaguer. He already had some Washington ties, I guess. When he ran a campaign, he ran a very professional one,” said state Sen. Barry Glassman, who was in the Maryland House when Mooney was first elected but later served with him in the Senate. “He was pretty strident in his views and didn’t mind having the only red light up on the board in opposition to a bill.”

As one might expect from a minority party, Mooney’s Senate colleagues sang his praises, while struggling to name legislative achievements from his 12 years in office.

“There were two people in our caucus who stood out because of their intelligence and their ability to articulate their issues on the floor, and that was Andy Harris and Alex Mooney,” said state Sen. Ed Reilly. (Harris is now Maryland’s lone Republican representative in the U.S. House.) “As a member of the minority party, much of our work was defensive, to kill bad bills, to amend atrocious bills.”

Mooney was defeated in 2010, a year in which Maryland Republicans lost two seats and saw their membership in the 47-person Senate fall to 12 seats.

In December 2010, about a month after his defeat, Mooney became chairman of the state Republican Party.

Less than a year later, he formed an exploratory committee to run for the U.S. House seat held by Bartlett, his former boss.

He began raising money immediately, but the way in which he did so rankled some Maryland Republicans.

“He was actually raising more money for his potential congressional run than he was for the state party, which was a cause for some concern,” said Gregory Kline, a longtime Republican activist in Maryland and a founder of the blog Red Maryland.

Asked about Mooney, Brian Griffiths, chairman of the Maryland Young Republicans and also a co-founder of Red Maryland, sent a terse statement saying only that he has “no doubt that he would represent West Virginia as a conservative.” He also sent links to four negative posts that his blog had written about Mooney.

“While MDGOP was mired in $120,000 debt, he was busy raising $108,000 for a 2012 congressional campaign to replace Roscoe Bartlett,” Red Maryland wrote, in calling for Mooney’s resignation. “In the end, Mooney decided not to run.”

Mooney didn’t run because Bartlett, who had been giving signs that he might retire, decided to run for a sixth term.

Mooney launched his exploratory committee on Nov. 30, 2011. He announced he would not run a little more than a month later, on Jan. 10, 2012. During that time, he raised more than $115,000, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Mooney ended up spending more than half of that money, much of it in May, June and July, months after he decided not to run, according to FEC records.

Bartlett lost the 2012 election in a district that had just been redrawn after the 2010 Census to be less favorable to Republicans.

“After that happened, Chairman Mooney decided to resign as chairman and not serve his full term and kind of jumped across the river and decided to run for Congress in West Virginia,” Kline said. “There are a few of us here in Maryland who wonder why he didn’t stay here, but I guess he saw greener pastures in West Virginia.”

Mooney had about $37,000 left from his truncated 2012 campaign that he carried over to West Virginia when he announced his candidacy in March 2013.

Mooney is hardly the first candidate to run for office in an adopted state.

Fifty years ago, Jay Rockefeller moved from New York to West Virginia as a VISTA volunteer. He ran for the House of Delegates two years later, launching a political career that would span four offices and nearly half a century. Hillary Clinton ran a successful campaign for the U.S. Senate in New York, while she was still living in the White House, with her terms as senator and first lady even overlapping for 17 days in 2001. And in 2012, Patrick Morrisey was elected as West Virginia’s attorney general, shortly after leaving his career as a Washington lawyer and lobbyist to move to Harper’s Ferry. Morrisey, like Mooney, also ran for office in another state, losing a 2000 bid for the U.S. House in New Jersey.

If Mooney’s migration didn’t sit well with some Maryland Republicans, some in West Virginia are not welcoming either.

Rob Cornelius, a paid consultant to the West Virginia Republican Party, was not shy about bashing Mooney before last Tuesday’s primary election.

“@MooneyforWV is so committed to voters in WV, he will vote in WV for the first time ever next month. Total liar,” Cornelius tweeted on April 29.

“@MooneyforWV crashed MD GOP into the Bay and then moved here,” Cornelius tweeted later that day. “Total clown.”

There are many more, both from Cornelius’ personal Twitter account and another account he controls, @ByrdsFinger, where he calls Mooney a “traitor” and a “fraud.”

Cornelius even pointed out on Twitter that Mooney didn’t sell his house in Maryland until February of this year, according to the real estate site Zillow.com.

Cornelius said his attacks represented the nature of primary campaigns and that he is “absolutely” supporting Mooney now.

“He just parachuted in, and some folks resented that, if you’ve been here for years building a party like guys like me have,” Cornelius said. “I don’t have a beef with the guy. He came in here and was effective. We have to respect that.”

Mooney was successful in a crowded primary, in part, because he raised more than twice as much money as his closest rivals (whose campaigns were mostly self-funded) in the Republican primary, according to The Center for Responsive Politics.

Almost all of that money — 97 percent — came from outside West Virginia. More than 70 percent of his money came from large contributions, defined by the FEC as being larger than $200.

Outside groups also spent heavily on Mooney’s behalf in the primary. He benefited from more than $160,000 in direct-mail advertising, media buys and other advertising, primarily from two super PACs, Freedom Frontier Action Network and the Senate Conservatives Fund. The Senate Conservatives Fund is “dedicated to electing strong conservative leaders to the United States Senate,” according to its website. Freedom Frontier Action Network’s website contains almost no information on the organization’s purpose, but all of the money it recently raised for use in the West Virginia primary comes from three limited liability companies, based in Boston, Georgia, and Virginia.

Only one other candidate in either primary benefited from any outside spending, Republican Charlotte Lane, who received about $25,000.

“Big picture, it’s certainly no worse than what anyone on the other side is going to try to hit him with in the fall,” Cornelius said of his prior criticisms.

Conrad Lucas, chairman of the state Republican Party, said voters already showed Mooney’s move was no big deal, by choosing Mooney as their candidate.

“The party itself handled that in the primary,” said Lucas, who a few days before the primary said he had met Mooney only once. “Basically, what you have is a scenario where you have very liberal, Obama-endorsing Nick Casey versus a conservative, Mooney, and that’s pretty clear cut.”

Staff writer Eric Eyre contributed to this report.

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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