Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., officially announced her plans Monday at the state Capitol rotunda to run for the U.S. Senate seat that's currently held by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. Rockefeller's seat will be contested in 2014.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Two years before the 2014 election, U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito formally announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate at a Monday morning news conference under the state Capitol rotunda.
Capito, a Republican, will run for the seat held by Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller since 1984.
Capito won her seventh term in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month. But before she's even sworn in to begin that term, she announced her plans to run for Senate.
She said Monday that, ironically, her early announcement of her Senate campaign plans would allow her to focus on her role in the House.
"The voters ... are fatigued. They have grown tired of the constant campaigning, and want us to govern," Capito said.
"It is time to focus on governing. For this reason, I have decided to make my political intentions for 2014 known now so that I can get back to work in Washington, and avoid disruptive political speculation."
Capito said she would not begin actively campaigning for the Senate immediately. Others didn't wait.
West Virginia Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas released a three-paragraph statement Monday that did not mention Capito, but mentioned Rockefeller six times and President Obama twice.
"For far too long, Jay Rockefeller has been more interested in endearing himself to America's liberal elite than serving the good people of West Virginia," Lucas said.
After Capito's decision to run for Senate was reported Sunday night, Rockefeller said, "My total focus right now is on the national budget situation and the fight for West Virginia families -- making sure the very wealthy finally start paying their fair share again, for the first time in decades, rebuilding a strong middle class, and creating real opportunity for those who are still struggling.
"Beyond that big question, everyone I talk to in West Virginia is tired of the non-stop campaigning. West Virginians just want us to do our jobs," Rockefeller said in a statement. "For me that means focusing full time on the serious issues at hand. Politics can wait."
State Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio echoed those sentiments Monday. "I believe Senator Jay Rockefeller will continue to work for children, veterans, seniors, and all working men and women and their families in West Virginia," Puccio said. "This is another example of Jay Rockefeller putting the people of West Virginia first."
Chris Hamilton, vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, attended Capito's formal announcement at the Capitol. He said his organization is likely to endorse Capito.
"We're excited. She has always been a staunch supporter of business and our industry in West Virginia," Hamilton said.
Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, praised both Rockefeller and Capito.
"The Chamber has taken no position in this race. We depend on our members," said Roberts, who was also at Capito's announcement. "She is clearly a popular political person. Every place she goes, people like her. West Virginia is ready for diversity."
Attacks from the right
Immediately after Capito's announcement Monday, she faced criticism from some of the more conservative elements of the national Republican Party. The conservative Club For Growth issued a statement asking if Capito is the "right" kind of Republican.
Chris Chocola, president of the conservative Club for Growth PAC, released a statement Monday criticizing Capito.
"Her candidacy will undoubtedly be cheered by the GOP establishment, and dire warnings will be issued against any 'divisive' primary challenges," said Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth and a former Indiana congressman. "The problem is that Congresswoman Capito's record looks a whole lot like the establishment candidates who lost this year.
"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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5164.