Since 2000, the people of West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District have repeatedly and decisively voted to send a Republican to Washington.
But a former state party chairman and other GOP supporters in the district don’t think that means Republican nominee Alex Mooney is necessarily a shoo-in to succeed outgoing Rep. Shelley Moore Capito.
“This is a very difficult race for me to evaluate as to what’s best,” said Mike Stuart, former state GOP chairman. “I’m having a great deal of trouble trying to figure out who to support in this race.”
Stuart said he thinks the race between Mooney and Democratic nominee Nick Casey is “wide open.” The two are set to meet in a “candidate forum” this morning in Charleston, hosted by the West Virginia Business and Industry Council.
As a Republican voter in the district, Stuart said he feels conflicted between his desire to support a candidate in his party versus the desire to support a candidate from West Virginia.
Mooney was unsuccessful in his first bid for public office in New Hampshire before serving several terms as a state senator in Maryland. After weighing a congressional bid in Maryland, Mooney moved to the Eastern Panhandle last year and announced he would run for Congress in West Virginia.
Stuart said it’s “hard to argue” Mooney has closer ties to West Virginia than Maryland. Voters could overlook that if they’re more concerned about Casey’s connections to national Democrats, he said.
“Folks will be very aware of his move here from Maryland,” Stuart said.
“But, for a lot of voters, they don’t care if he’s from Maryland or Mars so long as he’s going to go to Washington and fight the Obama administration.”
Mooney, national and state Republicans are quick to point to Casey’s previous support of the president — who remains deeply unpopular in West Virginia — when Casey served as state Democratic Party chairman.
“As we travel across that district, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents are voicing concerns with Nick Casey and his unbridled support for President Obama and Obamacare, not to mention Casey’s support for anti-coal policies,” said Nick Clemons, Mooney campaign spokesman.
“Alex’s message of standing up for West Virginia against Obama is clearly resonating.”
The campaign also points to a May poll it sponsored, in coordination with national Republicans and conducted by a Republican pollster, that says Mooney leads Casey by double digits in the race.
Casey and his campaign dispute accusations he’s an unwaivering Obama supporter, saying the Democrat plans to fight the administration, especially on coal and other energy issues.
The Casey campaign continues to say Mooney’s move and his campaign style are distasteful to Republicans, citing recent Casey endorsements by Republicans like Charleston Mayor Danny Jones and Charleston City Council President Tom Lane as evidence his message doesn’t resonate with West Virginia voters.
“And almost universally, I’ve heard that my opponent’s recent opportunistic move to West Virginia just so he could run for office, combined with his vicious Washington-style political attacks against fellow Republicans in the primary, is not what anyone of any party is looking for in their next Congressman,” Casey said in a news release at the time.
Mooney defeated Eastern Panhandle pharmacist Ken Reed, Charleston attorney and former state lawmaker Charlotte Lane and other challengers by more than 10 percentage points to sail to victory in the May primary.
In separate phone interviews with the Daily Mail, both Lane and Reed agree “the Obama factor” will doom Casey.
“I think Alex is going to win because West Virginians just do not like President Obama and Nick Casey is very closely tied with Obama. That will be played up for all it’s worth,” Lane said.
Reed said he thinks the district is trending in favor of a Republican: In addition to Capito’s success, GOP-presidential nominee Mitt Romney easily won the district in the 2012 campaign.
That doesn’t mean either Lane or Reed will vote for Mooney though.
“I’m not going to publicly comment on who I’m going to vote for,” Lane said.
Although he thinks the race hasn’t picked up in earnest yet, Reed said he’d like to see some substance from either candidate before he makes up his mind.
“I’m not sure yet. I’m going to watch and see what happens,” Reed said, when asked how he’ll vote.
“I want to see what kind of campaign each candidate puts forth, to be quite honest with you.”
Morgan County Republican politico Charles Trump said he didn’t know what to make of the race before the GOP primary, likening it to “a big rugby scrum.” After Mooney’s victory though, the former state House Minority Leader and current GOP candidate for state Senate said the choice is clear to him.
“I’m supporting Alex Mooney,” Trump said.
Mooney lives in the Eastern Panhandle now while Casey was born and raised in Kanawha County. Trump said Casey’s connection to the Kanawha Valley and Mooney’s edge in the Eastern Panhandle didn’t give either candidate an “insurmountable advantage.”
He also downplayed any negative impact Mooney’s move may have on the election outcome. A recent Mooney campaign ad said he moved to the state “to live in Freedom” and Trump trusts Mooney truly wants to live in West Virginia.
“To me, that says it all. We have a long history in this state of people who have come to West Virginia because they fell in love with it,” Trump said.
That’s especially common in the Eastern Panhandle, said Berkeley County Republican Executive Committee Chairman Gary Kelley. The dynamics of the people in that area of the state, both politically and logistically, lessen the impact of Mooney’s move on the race, Kelley argued.
“It won’t resonate as much here as it probably could in the Kanawha Valley, but it’s a battle,” Kelley said.
“We have a huge transition of people here. They’re not native sons here. We have a lot of people that live here but work in the district, in the city.”
Although there are more registered voters in Kanawha County than any of the other 16 counties in the 2nd Congressional District, Kelley said he thinks the collective vote from the Eastern Panhandle will help give Mooney the overall advantage. He still thinks Mooney will have to fight to win the seat, though.
Kelley and Reed both said they thought the campaign would get “nasty” in the fall. Both candidates have raised more than $1 million; Mooney led Casey in recent fundraising, but Casey had $500,000 more cash on hand at the end of June.
How they use that money for their campaign’s messaging will be the deciding factor in the race, Stuart argued.
“I think this is really going to boil down which candidate ... communicates better with the voters,” Stuart said.
National political analysts Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia and Stu Rothenberg of the Rothenburg Political Report say the race leans in Mooney’s favor. Nathan L. Gonzalez, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, agreed in a recent article with state Republican’s assessments as to the deciding factors in the race.
“This race will be an excellent test of what West Virginia voters hate more: candidates from Maryland or candidates connected to Obama,” Gonzalez wrote.
The general election is Nov. 4.
Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.