West Virginia Republicans say her name identification will help her bid, but they caution that she has to run on more than familiarity. One GOP strategist familiar with the state’s politics had a one-word suggestion for her: “Obama,” he said.
It would not be difficult to tie Rockefeller to Obama, who is deeply unpopular in West Virginia. Rockefeller has been an Obama loyalist since the 2008 campaign. Despite being an early supporter of President Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, Rockefeller endorsed Obama during the crucial final week of February 2008.
“If Shelley keeps it on Obama and coal it will be pretty hard for Rockefeller to recover,” the Republican strategist added.
But Rockefeller has strengths and Capito has vulnerabilities.
The senator has pervasive name identification. He has run statewide for decades — including against Capito’s father, the late former Gov. Arch Moore, in the 1970s. Democrats expressed confidence that Rockefeller would beat the congresswoman, if he runs for a sixth term.
While West Virginia is moving in Republicans’ direction, it is still a state racked with poverty and home to an outsized elderly population. Democrats and Republicans alike say the way for Rockefeller to win is to nationalize the race.
He must paint the moderate Capito as completely in line with the conservative House majority and its leadership.
“I wouldn’t worry too much about Shelley Moore Capito,” Kanawha County Democratic Chairman Norris Light said. “The people in Kanawha County — it’s the largest county of the state of West Virginia — seem to think she’s lining up with whatever the Republicans want to do and she follows the party lines and so on.”
“There’s a whole bunch of things that she’s not on the same wavelength with the average citizen here in Kanawha County,” he added.
As one of the poorest states in the country, any sort of alliance with those who want to cut Social Security or Medicare is toxic. Republicans maintain that the Capito brand is one of moderation.
State Democrats, meanwhile, are reluctant to discuss a plan B candidate, maintaining that they hope Rockefeller runs.
If he does retire, political speculators say the next most viable Democratic candidate is Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. Another person on the farm team is former Sen. Carte Goodwin, who was appointed to the Senate in 2010 as a caretaker to succeed the late Sen. Robert Byrd.
Others to watch include West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and state Supreme Court of Appeals Justice Robin Davis.