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Don Surber: 2nd congressional race reflects a new West Virginia

With Representative Shelley Moore Capito seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, the 2nd congressional district race is an open seat that has attracted serious candidates.

Democrats want to re-acquire a seat they held for 18 years until Bob Wise ran for governor in 2000. Party officials anointed former party chairman Nick Casey, who faces Delegate Meshea Poore.

But she lacks his base and money. Casey raised $669,688 as of Jan. 31; Poore $39,345, reported.

This is a boring race between two lawyers living in Charleston that will preserve Casey’s cash for November.

The Republican primary is where the action is. It features an intriguing geographic divide that reflects a political shift in West Virginia that reflects an economic shift in the state.

Three of the Republican candidates live in the Eastern Panhandle. Four live in the Charleston area. This is an East-West divide that is contrary to state’s experience in its first 150 years.

Northern Republicans in Wheeling formed the state and for nearly 75 years fought Southern Democrats for control, usually prevailing.

The Great Depression changed that in 1932 and for 82 years, West Virginia has voted Democratic as it tries to recover from that economic disaster.

The North-South divide is why the state’s three congressional districts cut horizontal swaths across the state map.

But the failure of Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama to carry the state has erased the North-South divide.

The Cook Partisan Voting Index gives Republicans a 14-point advantage in the northern 1st congressional district, 11 points in the middle 2nd district and 14 in the southern 3rd district.

But an East-West divide has emerged. Just as in 1932, economics is changing the political battlefield. The WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research looked at the last Census and noticed two things:

The state will lose another congressional seat in 2020.

The state’s two growth areas are Morgantown and the Eastern Panhandle.

Which helps explains why the Republican primary features four candidates from the center of the state’s political universe (Charleston) and three candidates who are closest area to the national political universe (Washington).

The race may come down to Alex Mooney of the Eastern Panhandle, and Charlotte Lane of Charleston.

Follow the money. Mooney raised $361,410 through Jan. 31 and Lane raised $282,621, reported.

The other Republican candidates and their funds raised as of Jan. 31 include Kenneth Ray Reed ($231,018) and Ron Walters Jr. ($128,020). Former Delegate Steve Harrison, Robert Fluharty and Jim Moss reported zero funds raised.

Mooney and Lane are former legislators, she in West Virginia, he in Maryland. Two years ago, he considered a run for Maryland’s 6th congressional district seat.

His opponents in West Virginia stress that.

Politically, Lane and Mooney are conservative, but she is established in state Republican circles. The West Virginia Coal Association endorsed her.

His endorsements include former Rep. Ron Paul and new conservative groups.

Age may be a factor as she was first elected to public office when he was 7. That cuts both ways in West Virginia.

The model for Mooney is Patrick Morrisey, who moved to Harper’s Ferry from Washington in 2006 and six years later became the first Republican elected as state attorney general in 84 years.

Morrisey defeated Darrell McGraw, a Southern Democrat who had squeaked by five previous Republican opponents, including Lane in 1996.

But Morrisey’s win also shows the flaw in Mooney’s plan.

Unlike Mooney, Morrisey did not just parachute into the state and seek office. Morrisey spent six years establishing himself in the Eastern Panhandle before setting off to slay the McGraw political dragon.

Likewise, Jay Rockefeller set his roots down before seeking public office and even then, he started out in the Legislature.

But roots may be overrated. The East-West divide is a rising factor in state politics. The larger the population, the more clout an area has.

After the 2020 Census, when lawmakers next draw the lines for the congressional districts, they may pit east against west.

Republicans seem to be doing that in their 2nd congressional district primary this year.

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