West Virginia’s Richard Ojeda is back, this time running for Senate

Ojeda ran for House and president, now takes on Shelley Moore Capito

Richard Ojeda ran for West Virginia’s 3rd District in 2018. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Richard Ojeda ran for West Virginia’s 3rd District in 2018. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted January 13, 2020 at 3:32pm

Richard Ojeda, the West Virginia Democrat who voted for Donald Trump in 2016, lost a bid for the House in 2018 and made a short-lived run for president, is now trying to challenge Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito this year. 

Ojeda, a former state senator and retired Army major, announced his campaign on social media and in a blog post on the website of DemCast, a nonprofit advocacy group. 

“I believe Mitch McConnell needs a thorn in his side and nobody is better at that than me … Richard Ojeda,” he wrote. 

Taking on Capito, who is running for a second term in a state that backed Trump by 42 points, won’t be easy. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Republican

Ojeda’s bid for West Virginia’s open 3rd District in 2018 garnered national attention for his straight-talking, unconventional campaign approach. As a former Trump supporter, he appeared well-positioned to connect with Trump voters in the state’s southern coal-mining district, many of whom remain registered Democrats, even while voting Republican. Trump carried the 3rd District by an even bigger margin than he carried the state — 49 points.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee eventually added Ojeda to its Red to Blue list for strong recruits, and he started working with national operatives like veteran Democratic pollster Jef Pollock, who was tipped off to Ojeda’s candidacy by West Virginia’s senior senator, Democrat Joe Manchin III.

But outside groups effectively nationalized the race, and Ojeda ended up losing by 13 points to Republican Carol Miller, the only new GOP woman elected to the House in 2018. Miller, the daughter of a former Ohio congressman, also had personal resources to contribute to the campaign. A week after his loss, Ojeda announced his bid for the Democratic nomination for president, which he eventually dropped in late January 2019.

“Just after two months into my campaign I realized after receiving a donation check from a handicapped woman that I did not feel comfortable continuing to accept donations from people who struggle when the news media was refusing to give me an equal voice,” Ojeda wrote in his blog post Monday.

Ojeda explained that he then tried to “get my state Senate seat back,” a position he had resigned from while running for president. But having already submitted his letter of resignation, he was unable to do so.

“I want to reassure everyone who hears my voice that I am committed to the citizens of West Virginia. I’m asking for forgiveness but also adding a promise,” Ojeda wrote, explaining that running for Senate will be his way to “continue my fight.”

Ojeda first made national news when he was beaten with brass knuckles days before his state Senate primary in 2016. He continued to attract attention throughout early 2017 and 2018 as an example of a Democrat who could appeal in Trump country.