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Rothenberg: Can Democrats Save Rockefeller's Seat?

“Republican voters in the state are social conservative more than they are economic conservatives,” one veteran GOP consultant said. “Capito’s only problem would be if the state’s pro-lifers went after her, and there isn’t a lot of evidence now that that will happen.” Capito favors some abortion rights.

Democrats don’t yet have a top-tier candidate in the race, but a number of current and former officeholders are considering a run.

None, of course, has Capito’s lengthy record of electoral success (except for Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, who is unlikely to run), and any Democratic nominee will be burdened by Obama’s record.

The president did more than 3 points worse in West Virginia than he did in North Dakota last year, and Capito would start off against any Democrat with a clear lead in the polls, something that neither North Dakota Republican Rick Berg nor Indiana Republican Richard E. Mourdock did last cycle.

Manchin’s recent victories prove that a Democrat can win even with Obama in the White House, but Manchin had served in elective office for years, including as governor, and he had a strong image of independence. It’s unlikely any other Democrat most often mentioned as possible candidates — Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis or former interim Sen. Carte P. Goodwin — would begin with similar strengths.

West Virginians are used to members of Congress who “bring back the bacon,” and Capito has the kind of profile that makes her a formidable candidate for the open Senate seat.

Democrats certainly shouldn’t count this seat lost yet. With a strong nominee and a possible suicide mission by anti-establishment conservatives who would rather elect a Democrat than Capito, anything could happen. Still, Democrats have reason to be worried about their ability to hold this seat next year.

Stuart Rothenberg (@stupolitics) is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report (rothenbergpoliticalreport.com).

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