Although delayed because of the COVID-19 lockdown, the West Virginia primary election is coming quickly and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., is campaigning for the first time to keep her Senate seat.
Capito was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2014, and came to the seat after sitting several terms in the House of Representatives, serving West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District.
Her challengers in the 2020 primary include Republican lobbyist Allen Whitt, who said he’s running to give West Virginia “a true conservative voice” in Washington.
“[Capito] has not been that,” Whitt said. “We have been sorely disappointed with her voting record since she’s gotten into office.”
Whitt serves as president of the West Virginia Family Policy Council, a religious-right organization with a long list of anti-LGBTQ views. He supports conversion therapy and is against nondiscrimination statutes passed by several West Virginia municipalities to protect LGBTQ citizens from harassment because of their sexuality and gender identity.
He does not believe there has been a true, documented case of discrimination in West Virginia based on sexual orientation, a stance shared by state-level lawmakers earlier this year that upset many in the LGBTQ community who disagreed and sought to change that assumption.
In 2014, Whitt campaigned for Capito but, today, he says he’s angry about several of the senator’s previous votes, including her record on health care and gun rights.
Despite the criticism, Capito was awarded a 100% on an issues scorecard created by the national Family Policy Council, an affiliate of Whitt’s organization, for her votes on abortion, the Second Amendment and other issues important to conservatives.
“I don’t really think I need to explain where I stand on these things. People know me pretty well by now. They know, at least generally, what I support. I am a conservative for the people here and I vote for them,” Capito said. “I presided over the Republican Party growth over the last six years — more — and the takeover of the Legislature in 2014. I was a part of that, and I was proud to do so.”
Whitt said he does not believe health care for citizens is the responsibility of the government to provide and that other federal spending — on things like social services and certain types of infrastructure — needs to be limited.
“Our spending must be safety related, not comfort related,” Whitt said. “Publicly funded health insurance is not a human right. It’s not the government’s job to provide us with food, with housing. Those are things we must do on our own.”
So far, Whitt has raised about $58,000 for his campaign, $50,000 of which was a loan from himself to the campaign, according to financial filings with the Federal Election Commission. That’s much less than the $2 million raised by Capito. Money aside, Capito said, she’s not worried about the primary challenge.
“I’m confident about this challenge, and I know West Virginians know who I am, what I stand for and how I will fight for them for another six years,” Capito said.
Capito said anyone who questions her conservative ideals can do so by checking her voting record, which she sees as a testament to her efforts to listen to the individual needs of West Virginians while maintaining party allegiance.
According to an analysis by the The Lugar Center and McCourt School of Public Policy, Capito is ranked as the seventh most-bipartisan member of Congress, based on her voting record in the House and her tenure at the Senate.
While this might not please some conservatives, such as Whitt, Capito sees it as a strength.
“I can work where I need to get things done for our people. I’ve always done that and will continue,” Capito said. “Things can’t always happen within just [the Republican Party]. We need to be willing, at times, to get support and support others across the aisle.”
Capito said that, if reelected, she would continue to work for West Virginians just as she has been: by appropriating money when and where it’s needed and advocating for residents whenever the opportunity arises.
As a member of the Senate Appropriations and Infrastructure committees, Capito, working with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has sent millions of dollars to West Virginia over the past six years for much-needed infrastructure projects and service funding.
This is something she said has to continue, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Right now, it’s an assessment of who needs more help, and why and how,” Capito said. “We have some things figured out, but we can’t leave everyone to figure it out by themselves. Yes, I am fiscally conservative and will continue to be, but there is a need.”
Whitt said he does not think the government should be responsible for many of these things, instead rallying for “true charity,” where those in the community who have the means to help the less fortunate do so on their own, instead of relying on tax money.
“West Virginia is filled with great, giving people who want to help. That’s always been true, and we need to utilize those people more,” Whitt said. “There are wonderful people here, charitable organizations that want to give a hand up, not a hand out. They want to inspire people who want to do better. That’s not the government’s job, that’s the job of others in our communities.”
Whitt said he’d support “draconian” cuts to federal spending, specifically to programs he deems more for comfort than safety, which includes feeding programs, health care and addiction recovery.
Capito, however, said she recognizes that spending has to be limited, but it should exist, and it should go to the most efficient points of service. She believes in charity, she said, but there are people here who need help, and private funding cannot always work.
“I think there’s always a role for government help. Why would we — a benevolent nation that has stepped up to help others all over the world — not help our own?” Capito said. “Charity from an individual isn’t going to meet the need. There’s much greater need than some people realize, than I realized before I got here. Helping people get out of poverty, get well and remain healthy — that’s good for all of us, and there’s a place for the government to help. The truth is, we need that help.”
Larry Eugene Butcher, a Wood county resident, according to his candidate filing with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office, also is campaigning against Capito. However, he could not be reached for comment. According to the FEC, Butcher has not filed any financial statements for this election.