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Rep. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia announced Monday that she will run for the Senate in 2014, immediately putting a solid Democratic seat in play for Republicans and turning the spotlight on incumbent Sen. Jay Rockefeller.
The 75-year-old Rockefeller, a West Virginia institution first elected to the Senate in 1984, declined to reveal whether he plans to run for re-election. And the contours of the West Virginia Senate race would look vastly different if it’s an open-seat race instead of a contest pitting Capito — whose popular father served three terms as governor — against Rockefeller, a former governor who has funded past campaigns with money from his deep personal fortune.
“If he runs, it’s going to be a very close race. If he retires, Shelley’s got it in the bag,” said one Republican operative with significant experience in West Virginia.
That’s the conventional wisdom, at least, which makes the senator’s decision all the more important. In a statement, Rockefeller was mum on his intentions.
“[E]veryone I talk to in West Virginia is tired of the nonstop campaigning,” he said. “West Virginians just want us to do our jobs, and for me that means focusing full-time on the serious issues at hand. Politics can wait.”
Neither side may stand still, however. Operatives of both parties, from Charleston, W.Va., to Washington, D.C., were already trying to game out what Rockefeller might do and how the race would shape up.
And Capito, in the speech announcing her candidacy Monday — also her 59th birthday —not-so-subtly put the ball in his court.
“I have decided to make my political intentions for 2014 known now so that I can get back to work in Washington and avoid disruptive political speculation,” she said, according to prepared remarks. “It will also hopefully provide clarity and time for others to make decisions.”
Some Democrats saw signs that Rockefeller was inclined to try for a sixth term.
“He made an awful lot of calls on election night to winners and losers and movers and shakers,” one Charleston Democratic operative said. “Why would you do that if you’re retiring?”
“My best guess is that Rockefeller stays and wins,” emailed a plugged-in Democratic operative familiar with the Senate landscape.
If Rockefeller does decide to run, Republicans familiar with the state expect him to start out with a lead, given his strength among the base of his party in a state where Democrats hold a registration advantage.