Rep. Shelley Moore Capito's announcement Monday that she will seek Sen. Jay Rockefeller U.S. Senate seat in 2014 creates what could be a monumental clash of two of the most powerful politicians in the state. It isn't known yet if Rockefeller, who is 75, will seek a new term in 2014, which would be his sixth, if re-elected.
Many wonder why Capito made her announcement so early, coming as it did less than three weeks after the contentious 2012 presidential election. However, Capito, who won her seventh term as West Virginia's 2nd District congressman, said she wanted to end speculation about her intentions in the coming months leading up to the election. This is understandable since she had been constantly asked if she was considering a run for both governor and the former Senate seat of the late Robert Byrd in the weeks of confusion following his death.
It also was an early warning shot to other West Virginia Republicans who might also be interested in seeking Rockefeller's seat. Capito may face primary opposition, but any candidate challenging her from the right will face an extremely uphill fight.
Capito is a bright, moderate voice, popular in her party and with Democrats. It is unlikely any amount of campaign paint will be able to color her as an extremist. The fact she would even consider running against Rockefeller - and in some analysts' opinions, be favored to win - shows not only her strength, but the strength the state's Republican Party has gained during the past decade.
In challenging Rockefeller, Capito is gambling just about all of the political capital she has garnered during her 12 years in the House. During that time, she has cruised easily to re-election against every Democratic opponent she has faced, netting 70 percent of the vote on Nov. 6 against Democratic unknown Howard Swint.
However, Rockefeller is no Howard Swint. Even if the senator's popularity has been dropping during the past few years, he is still well thought of in Democratic circles, both in the state and nationally. And Rockefeller is a favorite of veterans organizations because of the worthy political battles he has waged on their behalf.
If Rockefeller does run, this would be one of the most interesting political races in recent memory and will add a good deal of spice to what would normally be just another off-year election.