Capito, Tennant primary wins set stage for all-female WV Senate race

The next senator of West Virginia will be the first woman senator from the Mountain State. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito got the GOP nod tonight, with no tough competition, while Secretary of State Natalie Tennant took the Democrats’ candidacy. Capito leads by double digits, and would be the first Republican senator since the ’50s from this quirky, rural, conservative state where a conservative Democratic Party retains a huge registration advantage and many state and national offices. The winner of the race would take retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s seat.

I guess if Capito wins, the national press can go back to pretending she’s not a real woman, but while Tennant still has a chance, Capito can and should ride the attention this race will get to be a living refutation of the War on Women line. Now, many of the things that should make her a perfect refutation of the War on Women attack to members of the press make her no hero to conservatives. She’s famously moderate, pro-choice, happy to bring home the bacon, and has the attendant low vote scores from conservative organizations. West Virginia’s a state where you could probably get a credible candidate on the ticket who’s more conservative than Capito, and conservatives would be right to demand it. But because no such strong candidate emerged, we might as well take the very strong chance at a Senate seat and the fact that our nominee shatters several omnipresent press narratives about the Republican Party.

Mike Warren profiled Capito for The Weekly Standard. Bottom line: she’s not great on the stump, and conservatives have issues with her, but she’ll probably win anyway. Something I learned which I find mildly encouraging about her— she’s supported Paul Ryan’s budgets. Read the whole thing.

On fiscal and spending issues, Capito is a bona fide moderate, and the recent small-government, Tea Party trend of the GOP hasn’t reached West Virginia. She told the National Journal in January that one of her models is Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski, the quintessential Republican centrist. Capito and her fellow West Virginia Republican House member David McKinley get middling to dismal ratings from conservative groups like the American Conservative Union, the National Taxpayers Union, and Heritage Action. When Capito announced her Senate candidacy in November 2012, the Club for Growth issued a stinging memo denouncing the many federal spending projects she had supported over the years.

“Congresswoman Capito has a long record of support of bailouts, pork, and bigger government,” wrote Club president Chris Chocola. “She voted to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, for massive expansions of government-run health insurance, giveaways to big labor, and repeatedly voted to continue funding for wasteful earmarks like an Exploratorium in San Francisco and an Aquarium in South Carolina.”

When I ask her about the spending record in an interview in Ripley, she straightens up in her chair and leans forward, lowering her voice. “I was sent to Congress to represent 650,000 West Virginians,” she says. “I live in one of the states that is one of the most economically challenged states in the country. The only way to get our children out of poverty is to get them educated and healthy.” Expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, for instance, is a vote she’d “defend all the way down the line.” And in her defense, Capito’s been a consistent supporter of the Paul Ryan budget.