U.S. Rep. Shelley Capito, who represents the Second District of West Virginia in Washington, has an excellent sense of timing. Her announcement this week that she will run for the U.S. Senate in 2014 is proof of that.
Capito, a Republican, will be seeking - and winning, in my opinion - the seat now held by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat.
By the time Rockefeller comes up for re-election in November 2014, he will be 77 years old, after a long career in public service that included stints as secretary of state and governor in his adopted state. As one of the richest members of Congress, he has plenty of money to retire and perhaps reflect on how West Virginia has changed since he won his first election for the Senate in 1984.
Democrats still hold an edge among registered voters in the state, but it isn't what it was back then. Democrats once were two-thirds of the registered voters in the state. Now, they barely top half. Nearly one-fifth of Mountain State voters are registered as "no party," and many of those are conservatives or libertarians.
Rockefeller's only tough Senate race was his first one, in 1984. Then, he faced a familiar name, Morgantown businessman John Raese, who garnered 47.7 percent of the vote. Rockefeller won with 51.7 percent (a third-party candidate took the rest).
Since then, Rockefeller has run against sacrificial lamb-type Republicans of whom most West Virginians had never heard until they stepped into the voting booth.
That won't be the case in 2014. Capito is well known throughout the state, having served in the House for more than a decade. She won re-election this month by a margin of about two-to-one.
Back to Capito's timing: Rockefeller has lost popularity during the past four years because of his support for President Barack Obama. How disliked are the president's policies? Well, on Nov. 6, he didn't win in a single one of West Virginia's 55 counties.
Yet Rockefeller has backed Obama's energy policies, including the White House war on coal. By 2014, as more and more utilities announce plans to close coal-fired power plants because of the Environmental Protection Agency, electric rates will be going up. That won't help Rockefeller on Election Day.
Also in 2014, all the provisions of the national health care law - "Obamacare" - are scheduled to be in effect. Many West Virginians already don't like the law. Wait until they see how it affects their health insurance rates and health care choices in 2014.
Rockefeller has been a staunch supporter of Obamacare.
Bottom line: The 2014 Senate race is Capito's to lose.
Well, more accurately, it's West Virginia conservatives' to lose.
It seems conservatives here are taking their cue from counterparts elsewhere. Apparently they'd rather keep the liberal Rockefeller in office than elect a conservative who doesn't agree with them 100 percent of the time.
Capito has been something of a pragmatist on Capitol Hill, usually adhering to conservative principles but occasionally straying. It took just a few days after her announcement this week for ultra-conservatives to condemn her for that.
One question for them: Are you crazy? Have you never heard of the Buckley Rule, named for the late William F. Buckley Jr., one of the most esteemed of conservative thinkers?
In 1967, Buckley commented on whether conservatives should insist on ideological purity in a candidate. "The wisest choice would be the one who would win," he said, adding, "I'd be for the most right, viable candidate who could win."
Beyond any doubt, a candidate acceptable to the most conservative Republicans in West Virginia would lose to Rockefeller - or any of several other Democrats I could name.
Capito would beat him - or them. What else is there to consider?
EDITOR'S NOTE: Mike Myer is executive editor of The Intelligencer and the Wheeling News-Register. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org