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Senate GOP Has Mountain-High Hopes for Capito

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Capito’s challenge: Bring together Republicans in a state where they make up less than a third of registered voters.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito’s Senate bid means more than just a potential pickup for Republicans.

After repeatedly eschewing statewide campaigns, the West Virginia Republican starts 2014 as her party’s first full-blown Senate candidate — and perhaps the Senate GOP’s most prominent female candidate of the cycle.

“I’ve been a bridesmaid here,” Capito said in a wide-ranging interview with CQ Roll Call last week. “I’m really going to do it. I’m going to walk down the aisle.”

The GOP boasts immense opportunities to pick up Senate seats this cycle — and it needs a net of six victories to win control of the chamber. But a review of the 2014 Senate map shows few potential top-tier female recruits on the radar so far — especially a prospect as primed for a statewide run as Capito.

It’s still early in the cycle, but Republicans have openly discussed their problems wooing female voters. Thanks to her tone and style, Republicans say Capito would be in a position to help her party with outreach to women.

“We’re invested in every race that we might win, but Shelley’s just a clear, standout candidate,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said in a phone interview. “It’s not just that she’s a woman and a strong woman, but she’s a smart person.”

The big question is: Can Capito win in this traditionally Democratic stronghold? So far, she’s the only serious candidate to announce a bid for retiring Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s seat.

But Democrats and Republicans alike have threatened challengers, and Capito has not had a tough race in more than a decade.

The Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund pushed back within minutes of her announcement in late November. But not a single conservative challenge to her candidacy has emerged.

Conservatives dislike Rep. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., for the same reasons they have concerns about Capito. Besides, Republicans say he’s unlikely to run for the seat.

Then there’s businessman John Raese, who hasn’t ruled out a run. Raese lost his fourth bid for Senate in the Mountain State in 2012. He also ran against Capito’s father, former Gov. Arch Moore, in 1988 — and some local Republicans say he’s held a grudge against her family ever since.

Despite this, Capito has her eye on that phantom threat. Why? The small population of registered Republicans is unpredictable.

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