Infighting hurting Republicans

How strange would it be if during the November elections in West Virginia, a congressional seat that has been in Republican hands for years went to a Democrat, while another that has been reliably Democrat for decades went to a GOP candidate?

It could happen.

Of the state’s three House of Representatives seats, one – Rep. David McKinley’s, here in the First District – undoubtedly will remain in Republican hands.

It’s too early to draw sweeping conclusions based on fundraising, because neither McKinley nor his Democrat challenger, Glen Gainer, had any opponents in the primary election. Still, it appears Gainer is having trouble arousing much enthusiasm. His pre-primary campaign finance report showed just $226,816 contributed. After expenses, he had a balance of just $156,008.

McKinley, on the other hand, raised more than $1 million during the reporting period. At the end of it, counting money already in his campaign’s treasury, he still had nearly $1.4 million in the bank.

It’s in the state’s two other congressional districts that things get interesting. In the Third District, held solidly for many years by Democrat Rep. Nick Rahall, a change is in the wind.

Much of Rahall’s strength has been in the southern coalfields. But his failure to go to battle against President Barack Obama’s war on coal has made many miners rethink their stance. In 2012, against a fellow you’ve probably never heard of (then-House of Delegates member Rick Snuffer of Raleigh County), Rahall managed to win re-election only by a vote of 108,199-92,238.

This time around, Republican Evan Jenkins has an excellent chance of unseating Rahall. A key to his strategy has been to point to Rahall’s record of voting for “cap and trade” before he was against it.

How you view the race depends on whose public opinion poll you like. Democrat polls say Rahall’s ahead. Republican polls say Jenkins leads. Respected political analyst Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia says the race is “leaning” toward Jenkins.

But before GOP loyalists begin celebrating, they ought to consider the self-inflicted shot in the foot in the Second District.

There, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito had made the House seat safely Republican – until she decided to run for the Senate. She’ll win in a landslide, by the way.

Given the Second District’s recent record of voting GOP and the fact Obama has made “Democrat” a four-letter word among many Mountain State voters, one might have expected any Republican to be able to win the seat. But that’s the trouble. Lots of them decided to give it a go. Seven people vyed for the Republican nomination for the Second District seat in Congress.

Charlotte Lane, who had served in the state House of Delegates and as chairwoman of the state Public Service Commission, should have been a favorite. West Virginians know her and have reason to trust her political ability and dedication. As a member of the International Trade Commission, she stood up for American workers – including those in the steel industry – when many in the government would not.

But Lane was challenged by some Republicans who have very deep-pocketed supporters. That forced her to spend money in the primary election campaign, rather than saving it for the general election. Her pre-primary report to the Federal Election Commission showed just $89,702 on hand. Meanwhile, GOP challengers – eventual winner Alex Mooney, and Ken Reed – had, respectively, $213,628 and $274,955.

Laughing all the way to the bank was Democrat candidate Nick Casey – a formidable candidate. His pre-primary report showed $626,092 on hand. That’s more than the three top Republicans combined. It’ll give him an edge going into the general election – and could mean the Second District changes from Republican to Democrat.

Mike Myer is executive editor of The Intelligencer and the Wheeling News-Register. He can be reached via e-mail at mmyer@theintelligencer.net