Capito’s challenge: Bring together Republicans in a state where they make up less than a third of registered voters.
“In our state, a primary, we only have 29 percent Republicans. So, your pool is small,” she said. “It does influence your strategy because you’re targeting a much smaller group. Anybody who’s run in a primary will tell you, it’s hard to poll them, it’s harder to find them, it’s harder to determine what direction you’re going.”
Capito hopes to avoid a primary, but she did note that a nomination fight “hones your message, invigorates your supporters, all those kinds of things.”
Republicans have made significant headway in the state recently, but Democrats continue to hold a huge voter registration advantage. If Capito wins the primary, Democrats are prepared to destroy her brand via the state’s inexpensive ad markets.
EMILY’s List, the pro-abortion-rights group dedicated to electing Democratic women, is not about to give Capito — who favors some abortion rights — a pass on the issue.
“Is she going to be the only voice that stands up to her party’s ridiculously backward extremism that makes this the most regressive party in decades?” EMILY’s List spokeswoman Jess McIntosh asked. “That seems unlikely to me.”
Potential Democratic candidates include state Supreme Court of Appeals Justice Robin Davis, former Sen. Carte P. Goodwin, Rep. Nick J. Rahall II and West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant.
When he was governor, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III appointed Goodwin to the Senate after Democratic Sen. Robert C. Byrd died in 2010. Goodwin’s wife is Rockefeller’s state director.
Republicans point to a new GOP poll showing Capito with an 18-point lead over Rahall. She boasted a 63 percent job approval rating, according to the survey from GOP pollster Mark Blankenship, conducted on behalf of West Virginians for Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.
But for Capito, the right opportunity has finally come at the right time: She has a dynastic local brand and flush bank account amid a changing West Virginia electorate. She’s passed on statewide bids in almost every recent cycle: the Senate seat in 2008, the Senate special election for Byrd’s seat in 2010 and the governorship in 2012.
“I can’t rely on the strength of my own personality to win a Senate race, but I can rely on the strength of my personality to communicate the issues that I think are really important,” she said.
Most importantly for Republican insiders, she’s a trained candidate with honed on-message skills. Senate Republicans have failed to pick up five Senate seats in the past two cycles because of lackluster nominees in otherwise winnable races.
“She’s unlikely to say the crazy stuff that gets people in trouble,” said a K Street lobbyist who has been dismayed with the tea party’s involvement in primaries.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.