Rep. Shelley Capito has a big ace up her sleeve going into the race to succeed Sen. Jay Rockefeller. It is simply that Democrats will be unable to portray her as a hardline conservative.
Capito, the Republican who represents West Virginia's Second Congressional District, already is the heavy favorite to win the Senate race this fall. That will be made easier by Rockefeller's decision to retire - though Capito would have done very well against him.
Here in the Mountain State, Democrat candidates have a tried-and-true playbook against Republicans: First, insist Democrats favor "the little guy," while GOP candidates do not. Second, claim the right thing for labor union members to do is support Democrats.
If conservatives have had a gripe about Capito, it is that occasionally, she works with unions. For example, a few years ago, she co-sponsored a bill to allow air traffic controllers to join unions. In 2007, she co-sponsored a bill to allow public safety workers to unionize.
Most Republicans get very low scores, often in single digits, when labor union analysts rate them. But in 2008, the AFL-CIO gave Capito a 48 percent "lifetime score," according to Project Vote Smart. That had dropped to 31 percent by 2011, but it's still better than most GOP candidates.
On issues some liberals use to define whether a lawmaker is for or against "the little guy," Capito also does well.
In 2007, she voted in favor of increasing the federal minimum wage. She has supported extensions of unemployment benefits. She backs initiatives such as Head Start and the Children's Health Insurance Program.
Last year, Capito voted in favor of a $939 billion agriculture bill that included Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamp) benefits, though most Republicans rejected it.
In other words, Capito's Democrat opponents will not be able to stereotype her (though they no doubt will try). That's a big advantage in West Virginia.
Now, there's a bit of a problem with that. Some conservatives insist Capito isn't really one of them. They're hoping she will be beaten in the primary election.
That could be disastrous for the GOP. As matters stand, the Senate race is Capito's to lose. Other Republican candidates simply can't say that, especially if, as seems likely, the Democrat nominee is Secretary of State Natalie Tennant.
Besides, on most matters that count, Capito is solidly in line with how her fellow Mountain State residents think - and these days, that means conservative on issues such as energy and Obamacare.
Here's the bottom line for Republicans who plan to vote in the Senate primary: In politics, winning is everything. Finding and nominating the West Virginia version of Ted Cruz might make ultra-conservatives feel good for a few months - but that joy would wear off quickly by November, when the possibility of a general election loss would be much greater.
So conservatives shouldn't look a gift horse - a Republican likely to win a Senate seat - in the mouth.
What's wrong with the United States? A public opinion poll conducted by the Associated Press and the GfK market research firm late last year provides part of the answer.
In the poll, young Democrats were asked whether they favor the Affordable Care Act. Eighty-one percent said yes.
The same young Democrats were asked if they favor Obamacare. Just 58 percent said yes.
Obamacare and the ACA are the same thing, of course.
One wonders how many people, both Democrat and Republican, who aren't really paying attention will be going to the polls later this year.
One also wonders how many of those who vote pay income taxes, or did during long careers that have ended with retirement.
Scary, isn't it?
EDITOR'S NOTE: Mike Myer is executive editor of The Intelligencer and the Wheeling News-Register. He can be reached via email at email@example.com