Race has national implications

6 Oct

tennant mooredems turn 3

Oct. 05, 2014 @ 10:00 PM

CHARLESTON — When picking its U.S. senators, West Virginia traditionally has stuck with what’s most familiar.

For 55 years, the Mountain State has only sent Democrats to the Senate. Jay Rockefeller and the late Robert Byrd, for instance, spent about three and five decades respectively in the nation’s capital — long enough to have their names affixed to college buildings, airports and highways around the state.

As Rockefeller eyes retirement, the race for his job is fueling a shake-up in the state and the national political scene. Republican Shelley Moore Capito and Democrat Natalie Tennant are vying for one of a handful of seats nationwide that could sway a slim Democratic Senate majority.

The contest could symbolize how tides are turning in West Virginia. Capito is a heavy favorite hoping for a signature GOP win, as the historically Democratic state veers further right amid strong voter disdain for President Barack Obama.

Either way, the result will make history. Capito or Tennant would be West Virginia’s first woman in the Senate.

Capito and Tennant don’t hail from unfamiliar circles for West Virginia politics.

Capito has served in Congress since 2000 and was a state lawmaker before that. Her father, Arch Moore, was one of the most popular GOP governors in state history, despite serving 33 months in federal confinement for corruption felonies. In 1978, he lost a bid for the same Senate seat that Capito is seeking.

Tennant, the two-term secretary of state, was a TV journalist for 12 years. At West Virginia University, she once sported the Daniel Boone look — muzzleloader, coonskin cap and all — as the first female Mountaineer mascot. She marched in WVU’s homecoming parade Friday.

This is her family’s second run-in with Capito. Tennant’s husband, Democratic state Sen. Erik Wells, lost a 2004 U.S. House challenge against Capito. Tennant also lost a special election bid for governor in 2011.

In a race ensnared in energy policy rhetoric, Capito and Tennant talk plenty about protecting coal. They vehemently oppose federal regulations that would curb carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, an anti-global warming push that coal country advocates fear would cripple their hurting industry.

Both are fervent about firearms rights, occasionally arguing over who’s the bigger gun lover.

For West Virginia Democrats, the toughest hurdle isn’t even on the ballot. Obama lost all 55 counties in 2012, a harsh reprimand against his environmental policies on coal, gun control initiatives and other issues.

Tennant, who supported the president in 2008 and 2012, vows to buck him and the D.C. establishment on coal and other issues. Pundits say the anti-Obama wave is too overwhelming.

“(Tennant) has the kind of qualities that could make her an appealing candidate,” said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of The Rothenberg Political Report. “The problem is, she’s a Democrat in Obama’s second midterm with a president wildly unpopular in the state. It just never added up to her having a serious chance of winning.”

At an August rally in coal-centric Beckley, the GOP wasn’t subtle about its strategy. Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Capito and GOP congressional candidates spent 20 minutes almost singularly laying blame on Obama and Democrats for coal’s downturn.

Tennant, like other Democrats facing tough elections, says the race has nothing to do with Obama.

Democratic superstars including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have dropped in for fundraising events for Tennant. It has been a tip-toe act for Tennant to make clear what she supports from mainstream Democrats — minimum wage increases, college loan forgiveness, equal pay, financial industry pushback — and where she differs, like coal and guns.

“We don’t agree on everything,” Tennant said after the Warren event in July. “I’m building a coalition of what is first for West Virginia.”

Tennant has pegged Capito as the banking industry’s best friend in Congress. A Tennant TV ad claims the congresswoman was privy to insider information on the House Financial Services Committee and financially benefited from it. Capito’s husband is an investment banker.

“These allegations were batted back many, many times,” Capito said. “There’s no basis in fact. I really think she’s taken it to the gutter.”

Capito also had a head start in the race.

She announced her bid a couple weeks after the November 2012 election, before Rockefeller decided to retire in January 2013. Tennant entered the race 10 months after Capito, who started with $1.6 million from her House account and has maintained about a 3-to-1 money edge since.

More conservative groups, such as the Heritage Foundation and Americans for Prosperity, signaled they weren’t thrilled with Capito’s slightly more moderate voting record. But a serious challenge from the right never surfaced.

CHARLESTON — Here is a look at where U.S. Senate hopefuls Democrat Natalie Tennant and Republican Shelley Moore Capito stand on key issues.

ENERGY/COAL: Both oppose a proposal to limit carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. Both vaguely say they want an “all of the above” domestic energy policy that weans America off international energy dependence, but uses all types of energy production.

Capito sponsored the MINER Act of 2006, which became law. It requires mines to prepare better preparation and reporting for accidents.

Tennant criticizes Capito for voting against a failed mine safety bill in 2010, which was largely a partisan vote. The bill made it easier to shut down problem mines, increased penalties for serious safety violations and offered more protection for whistle-blowers. At the time, Capito said the bill was rushed, did little for mine safety, penalized businesses, added regulation and promoted lawsuits.

AFFORDABLE CARE ACT: Capito has voted with her caucus dozens of times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. She says she wants to replace part of the law allowing Medicaid expansion in states, a push that has insured about 150,000 West Virginians.

Tennant supports changing the Affordable Care Act, but also supports Medicaid expansion. She favors a provision that patients can be denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions. She also supports delaying penalties on people for not having insurance and wants more insurance providers involved in West Virginia.

GUN RIGHTS: Both candidates have been outspoken gun rights advocates. Tennant believes decisions about criminal background checks should be made at the state level. She says the waiting period after a background check should drop from three business days to 48 hours, and after the background check system is in place for four years, the wait should only be 24 hours. Both opposes a federal firearms registry. Both say they oppose a failed bill sponsored by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, to expand background checks.

BUDGET: Capito has cast votes for several budgets by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin. The latest version, which passed the House in April and won’t advance any further, would cut more than $5 trillion over the next decade to balance the budget by 2024. It relies on domestic program cuts, like education and food stamps, and shifts money to the Pentagon and veterans’ health care. Future retirees would be shifted from traditional Medicare and toward a subsidy-based health insurance option on the open market. Social Security would be untouched. Ryan’s 2010 budget included an option for personal Social Security accounts, but Capito voted against it.

Last September, Capito voted to raise the debt ceiling only if the Affordable Care Act was delayed, changed or defunded. A government shutdown ensued. Later, she voted to end the shutdown by raising the debt ceiling in October. She supported a bipartisan budget deal in December.

Tennant supports a push to refinance some student loans by setting minimum tax rates on millionaires. She has criticized Capito for supporting Ryan budgets and for the shutdown. She opposes cuts to Social Security and efforts to change Medicare into a voucher program

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