Rep. Shelley Moore Capito continues to widen her lead against Secretary of State Natalie Tennant in the race for U.S. Senate, moving ahead by 17 percentage points in the latest version of the West Virginia Poll.
Republican Capito received support from 54 percent of the likely voters polled, compared to 37 percent for Democrat Tennant and 9 percent who were undecided. That’s up from an 11-point edge for Capito in May and a 5-point edge last August before Tennant officially entered the race.
“These numbers show very clearly that Shelley Moore Capito’s message is resonating with voters and there is a growing sense of trust and confidence in Shelley, as well as a growing sense of mistrust and lack of confidence in Tennant,” said Amy Graham, Capito campaign spokeswoman.
The Tennant campaign downplayed the numbers, pointing to the Democrats’ quarter-million voter registration advantage in the state.
“Polls don’t win elections, people do, and the people of West Virginia have elected Natalie statewide twice with more than 60 percent of the vote because they know she is an independent leader who will stand up to politics as usual and put them first,” said Jenny Donohue, spokeswoman for the Tennant campaign.
Capito and Tennant are vying to succeed Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who announced in early 2013 he would retire.
R. L. Repass & Partners conducts the West Virginia Poll for the Charleston Daily Mail. The firm polled 401 likely voters Aug. 15-23. The company compiled responses from residents in all 55 counties using opt-in Internet surveys, landline telephone calls and cellphone calls. The margin of error is 4.9 percent.
Rex Repass said he thinks the margin could tighten as the election draws closer, but he predicted Capito still wins the election by at least 10 percentage points.
“You do have a popular congresswoman who’s run strong before,” Repass said.
“In my view, she’s in a strong position to win.”
The poll’s findings echo other national polls and projections that put Tennant in a deep hole. A recent Rasmussen Reports poll, which tends to skew in favor of Republicans, also had Capito leading Tennant by 17 points.
The New York Times, Washington Post and Nate Silver of 538 all give Capito at least a 90 percent chance of winning. The Cook and Rothenberg political reports each say the Senate seat “leans” Republican and Larry Sabato of “Sabato’s Crystal Ball” at the University of Virginia says the winner is “likely” a Republican.
The president’s abysmal approval rating and a statewide trend toward the GOP don’t bode well for any Democrat in the race, said Kyle Kondik, managing editor for Sabato’s Crystal Ball, adding 2014 midterm could be known as the year West Virginia fully embraced the GOP.
Obama lost every West Virginia county in the 2012 presidential election and remains unpopular, according to the West Virginia Poll. He garnered a 25 percent approval rating, with a 63 percent disapproval rating and 12 percent saying they weren’t sure.
The West Virginia Poll also shows 41 percent of those polled favor a West Virginia Legislature controlled by Republicans, compared to 39 percent favoring a Democrat-led Legislature. Democrats have controlled the state House of Delegates for more than 80 years, but Republicans picked up 11 seats last election and are confident they can win the majority this year.
“That’s a tide that Tennant would’ve had a hard time fighting against any candidate, let alone a candidate with Capito’s political profile, family lineage, and proven abilities,” Kondik said.
“Tennant has a tough challenge in this race: In order to get big-time support from the party, she needs to prove her viability without that support.
It becomes kind of a Catch-22: She can’t move the numbers without help from Washington, but she needs to move the numbers to get help from Washington.”
Polls aren’t always right: former U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., notoriously lost to a little known university professor in the GOP primary this year after releasing an internal polls that said he was up by 34 points just days before the election. The Tennant campaign also likes to point U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND, who won a Senate race as a Democrat in a Republican heavy state.
It’s not fair to compare polls in House races to Senate races because House races — especially primaries — are traditional very hard to poll, Kondik said.
“As for Heitkamp, it was clear the Democrats nationally were playing hard there: It was mildly surprising that she won, but the race was clearly engaged and competitive on both sides,” Kondik said.
“It is not obvious that West Virginia is engaged and competitive nationally. If it gets that way -– well, we’ll see.”
Repass also noted those polled represented a higher percentage of Republicans in the state. In June, Democrats accounted for 49.9 percent of registered voters in the state, compared to 28.8 percent registered as Republican. Of those polled, 48 percent said they were Democrats, 35 percent said they were Republican and 16 percent said they were Independent.
Respondents also represented wealthier and more educated people than the average West Virginian, according to U.S. Census data. However, Repass said that mirrors trends for likely midterm voters.
Although Obama received the lowest approval rating from those polled, another Democrat received the highest.
At 51 percent, Rockefeller was the only politician who received a positive job approval rating from the majority of those polled. His approval rating is down 1 percent from the 2013 West Virginia Poll. Of those polled this year, 29 percent said they did not approve of Rockefeller’s job performance and 20 percent were not sure.
Capito received a 50 percent approval rating, with the remaining 50 percent split between disapproval and uncertainty. That’s the same approval rating recorded for Capito last August in the West Virginia Poll. That gives her the best approval rating ratio, Graham argued.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., picked up two points in his approval rating compared to the last West Virginia Poll, moving from 43 percent approving to 45 percent. Those who disapprove of the job he’s doing also dropped from 37 percent to 31 percent.
“My focus has and always will be on serving the people of West Virginia and bringing common sense values to Congress,” Manchin said in a statement.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin saw the biggest drop of any state politician from last year. His approval rating fell from 51 percent in the 2013 West Virginia Poll to 40 percent in the current poll.
Although Tomblin and his administration were criticized for their response to the chemical leak and water contamination earlier this year, Repass said he thinks that’s only part of the reason why the governor’s approval rating could be down.
“I would say it was one contributing factor,” Repass said.
“I think it’s more about this segment that we identified as likely voters, who tend to trend Republican.”
A Tomblin spokesman declined comment.
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.