West Virginia Republicans are wooing Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) for a 2012 run against Sen. Joe Manchin (D), and there are early indications she may be willing to play ball.
Capito -- who just won a sixth term in a landslide -- told E&E Daily yesterday that she is watching her state's political situation carefully. Manchin, the state's popular former governor, was just sworn in as senator after winning a tougher-than-expected special election that was marked by Republican efforts to tether him to unpopular national Democratic policies.
"Having just been re-elected ... I'm concentrating on my job as it is now as a member of Congress," Capito said, stressing she had neither decided on a run nor ruled one out. "But things come around quickly, I realize that, and so I'm continuing to look."
Capito said the president's energy initiatives -- from a cap-and-trade climate bill to new U.S. EPA regulations on coal mining and greenhouse gases -- and other policies would continue to hurt state Democrats in the next election.
"That's still going to be a problem," she said. "I know that West Virginia was part of the wave of 2010, and I think that wave will continue to break that way."
Even the possibility of her candidacy has the state's party salivating.
"Our party has an open invitation to Shelley Moore Capito in whatever race she would choose to run in," said Mike Stuart, chairman of the West Virginia Republican Party. "The sky is the limit for her as far as her opportunities. I doubt that Shelley Moore Capito would be opposed by any Republican."
But Republicans have been disappointed by Capito before, wooing her to run against Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) and the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D) in the past, without success. Capito, 57, is the daughter of former Gov. Arch Moore (R).
If Capito does not run, Stuart said there would be a spirited primary of strong candidates, including possibly John Raese, who ran a close race against Manchin this year.
And while Democrats have held both West Virginia Senate seats for more than 50 years, Stuart says it is only a matter of time before the state -- which has gone for the GOP candidate in the past three presidential elections -- sends a Republican to Congress' upper chamber.
"Privately, even Democrats would tell you that the Republican Party is the future of West Virginia," he said.
Manchin under fire from day one
Whoever runs on the Republican ticket will have plenty of support from the national party, which is itching to take Manchin down after he beat them in this year's special Senate election to finish Byrd's term.
Since Manchin took office last month, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has parsed his every quote and vote for campaign fodder. When Manchin voted for Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to remain majority leader, the committee dug up Reid's 2008 quotes about how "coal makes us sick" and accused Manchin of voting for an enemy of his state's coal industry.
And when Manchin told the Charleston Gazette last week that he would consider letting tax cuts expire for individuals making more than $1 million annually, the committee hammered him for going back on a campaign-trail promise not to raise "any" taxes.
"Just as Republicans predicted, Joe Manchin is quickly proving to be a reliable rubber stamp for his Democrat Party bosses as he breaks his promises to West Virginia voters," committee spokesman Brian Walsh said in a release. "It's the Obama agenda first, and West Virginia a distant second, when it comes to Joe Manchin."
The committee's attacks are in line with those made by Raese in his attempts to tie Manchin to President Obama, whose approval ratings in West Virginia hovered around 30 percent during the special election.
Raese said Manchin would break promises to voters and coal miners by voting for the president's cap-and-trade climate initiative. The attacks made headway as Raese erased a double-digit poll deficit to pull ahead in multiple surveys just weeks before the election.
Manchin hits back, picks insider to lead staff
Manchin did not back down then -- he rolled to an 11-point victory following a now-famous television spot where he shot a bullet through the cap-and-trade bill -- and he is showing no sign of backing down now.
The senator this week tapped Democratic political insider Chris Kofinis to lead his Capitol Hill staff. The choice of Kofinis, an operative and frequent pundit on cable news known for his ability to work across the aisle, is widely viewed as a sign Manchin will keep an eye on 2012 as he attempts to keep his first two years in the Senate from becoming his last.
It may be even harder for Manchin to distance himself from Obama this time, with the president at the top of the ticket, seeking re-election.
But Manchin's office is not holding back with fire of its own.
Manchin spokesman Sara Payne Scarbro yesterday chided the NRSC for its attacks on Manchin and attempted to shift focus to the committee's major gaffe of the fall campaign.
Democrats pounced in October when it was revealed a committee-hired advertising firm had found out-of-state actors to play West Virginians in a television spot and told them to dress the part with a "hicky" look.
"It's sad that the National Republican Senatorial Committee -- the very same group that called West Virginians hicks -- has not stopped with its tired, negative political attacks," she said.