Senate candidates talk women’s issues

West Virginia is poised to send its first woman to the U.S. Senate, but the two candidates say they’re not in the race to make history.

“I tend not to focus on something like that,” said Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, the Republican nominee who currently represents the 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House. “I feel like the problems that are confronting West Virginians are keeping your job, opportunities for your children, caring for your parents. Those are the things I focus on rather than what’s in it for me.”

When Capito was first elected to the U.S. House in 2000, she joined a short list of women who have represented West Virginia in Congress. Likewise, Democratic nominee Natalie Tennant became only the second woman to be elected West Virginia secretary of state. She, too, said the race isn’t about being the first woman elected to the post.

“I recognize people want to make that historical reference, but I look at this as more than (being) the first woman,” Tennant said. “It’s not about being the first woman, it’s about being the best woman for the state, the best woman who will lead us 30 years from now — not just in 2014 or 2016, but who is going to deliver and help shape West Virginia for the next 30 years.”

Capito and Tennant are running for Senate at a time where much of the national dialogue is focused on women’s issues, including reproductive health, access to abortions and the economy. While much of their campaigns focus on job creation and helping small business — two aspects that affect the majority of voters — both acknowledge the pressing issues women face in today’s society.

That includes a recent decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court that found corporations could object to providing some types of contraception to employees via health insurance plans based on religious beliefs. The decision has created a firestorm among women’s rights groups, who argue a woman’s boss shouldn’t have the right to decide her reproductive choices. Tennant agrees.

“This should be a woman’s decision,” she said. “When you talk about Hobby Lobby, I think the Supreme Court got it wrong. I don’t believe churches should have to go against their doctrine. But a private corporation is not a church. I don’t think a private corporation should be making health care decisions for their employees. That should be between the worker and their doctor. A woman’s boss should not be in the doctor’s office with them.”

On the other hand, conservatives generally agree with the decision, saying the majority of justices sided with religious freedom.

“I believe women should have access to contraception, absolutely,” Capito said. “But I believe the decision was based on a firm belief in our Constitution of religious freedoms. I think we should protect religious freedoms.”

But it’s not just issues related solely to women that are important this election, both candidates said. Each is addressing the need for more jobs and improved small business climate in her own way.

Tennant has traveled the state in recent weeks touting her jobs and energy agendas. She’s met with small business owners across the state, many of whom are women who say they’re affected by state and federal level regulations on business.

“I talk to a lot of small business owners,” she said. “It turns out a lot of them are women and decisions made on the state and federal level do have impact in the smallest of our communities, like Tucker County. I talked to Melissa who is the owner of Hellbenders Burritos restaurant. Her concern is swipe fees for credit and ATM cards. She has to be very creative in how she accepts those. People are using those more and more but it’s costing her more.”

Capito, too, has heard from women concerned about financial security. A couple of years ago, she spearheaded legislation that would extend credit to stay-at-home moms. She’s also worked to help women business owners. She said a strong economic system works for men and women alike.

“I’ve been a strong proponent of trying to help women business owners expand their credit,” she said. “I serve on the (House) Financial Services (Committee) and that’s been an area we’ve put a lot of emphasis.

“Every issue is a women’s issue,” she added. “Economic opportunity, the ability to get a job, the ability to afford school, the ability to pay back your student loans, the ability to use the industries in this state, natural resources, to power America. That’s a very important part of what’s good not just for women but what’s good for the entire state.”

Both candidates have been involved in politics for some time. Capito was elected to the House of Delegates in 1996 before serving in Congress. Tennant was elected secretary of state in 2008 and ran for governor during the 2011 special gubernatorial election. Both said they’d like to see women become more politically involved, either out front holding elected office or behind the scenes.

Tennant said she’s seen women open their homes to host campaign events and offer a place to discuss important issues.

“That one woman, in addition to all the other women, made a difference by opening up her house,” Tennant said. “I don’t believe her name has been on a ballot, but she’s making a difference for the rest of West Virginia.”

Capito said she’d like to see more women in lower elected offices and help pave the way for those who want to seek higher office.

“Women have always been the backbone of the political system, the worker bees, but it’s getting them out front to take that step to run for office and be supportive of them,” she said. “We need more women in the elective office that feed the larger offices.”

Contact writer Whitney Burdette at 304-348-7939 or Follow her at

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