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John Raese, a wealthy Republican businessman who has taken on, and been defeated by, two of West Virginia's most powerful Democrats in the past quarter-century, believes the third time might be the charm.
Raese said Wednesday that he's "absolutely" considering jumping into what is shaping up to be a special election this November to replace the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D). Raese also said his decision to run would not be determined by whether GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito enters the contest.
Raese said he won't make a final decision until the state Legislature finishes its review of state succession laws and determines how the nominating process and special election will take place. But he did say that he's already laying the groundwork for getting into the race.
If he does run -- and becomes the GOP nominee -- Raese will likely to be going up against Gov. Joe Manchin, who has made it clear that he's interested in the seat. Manchin is viewed as the most popular Democrat in West Virginia now that Byrd has died and is considered the odds-on favorite to win the remainder of Byrd's term.
Raese challenged Byrd in the Senator's last re-election bid in 2006. He spent more than $1.5 million of his own money in that effort but only managed to secure 34 percent of the vote against the political icon. Raese faced Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D) in a much closer contest in 1984, when he took 48 percent of the vote as Rockefeller won his first Senate term.
Raese said he would have a few natural advantages in a special election this fall.
"I just ran three years ago. I have a lot of organization that's still there. I have a lot of people who know me across the state," he said. "It's not like I'm unknown."
He would also have deep pockets to help him quickly finance a Senate bid in what would be a condensed campaign.
Raese runs Greer Industries, which includes limestone and steel businesses, as well as several newspaper and radio corporations in West Virginia.
But before he gets to the general election, Raese could find himself in a primary with Capito, another political legacy in West Virginia. The Congresswoman said this week that she's considering the Senate special election but also that she would make that decision after the process was determined.
Raese said he thinks he would do well against Capito in a statewide GOP primary. "She's very liberal to me," he said, pointing to her 70 percent lifetime voting record from the American Conservative Union.
One West Virginia Republican consultant said there's certainly no love lost between Raese and the Congresswoman's family. In 1988, Raese challenged Capito's father, former Gov. Arch Moore, in a GOP primary and lost. But Moore was swept out of office that year amid a scandal that eventually earned him a five-year jail sentence for fraud, extortion and obstruction of justice.
"John has always been upset by how Republicans in West Virginia still idolize Arch Moore despite the fact that he spent time in jail, and [Raese] is quick to remind people of that," the consultant said. "I think that carries over to how he feels about Shelley."