The Magazine

Top of the List

In the GOP quest for the Senate, West Virginia looks like a done deal.

May 5, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 32 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Widget tooltip
Audio version Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

On top of the spending issues, Capito is to the left of the Republican party on abortion. “My position has been that abortion should be rare, no federal funding for abortion,” she tells me. “I would not vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.” According to National Right to Life, Capito voted against an amendment in 2011 that would have banned giving federal funds to community teaching health centers that train doctors and nurses to perform abortions, though her record otherwise shows consistent opposition to the use of federal funds for abortions. Capito also supported the federal ban on partial-birth abortion and voted to ban most abortions after 20 weeks.

In most red states, a record and rhetoric like that could earn a Republican candidate a primary challenge from the right. But no serious candidate jumped in against Capito. “I think what they really found is I am certainly in the mainstream of West Virginia thought of the Republican party, have a good record of reflecting that in my votes, and they probably found as they looked around West Virginia that I’m the one that can win,” she says.

It doesn’t hurt that she brings home the bacon. “I earmarked some public money to help the library here in Ripley get a new roof,” she volunteers. “I earmarked Sandyville a water/sewer project. You’re talking $35,000-type stuff.”

In addition, there isn’t much of a bench for West Virginia Republicans, and Capito is the party’s only player. “We would have considered supporting a conservative alternative,” says Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller, “if one had existed.”

And Capito has proven she can win. In 2012, she won Jackson County (home of Ravenswood and Ripley) by more than 30 points, outperforming Mitt Romney by 11 points and Democratic senator Joe Manchin by nearly 15 points. Across her district, she won nearly 70 percent of the vote. 

That’s remarkable for this nominally red state. Conservative, rural, overwhelmingly white West Virginia has voted for the Republican nominee for president for four straight elections, but Democrats still thrive here. Party registration favors Democrats over Republicans by nearly two to one. The governor is a Democrat, and Democrats control both houses of the legislature. The state’s Democratic party is much more conservative than the national party, particularly on social and environmental issues. Manchin, the former governor, won his special election to replace the late Robert Byrd, a Democrat, in the Senate in 2010 with an ad that showed him shooting a bullet through the text of a cap and trade bill. 

For 10 years, Capito was the lone Republican in West Virginia’s congressional delegation. In fact, she might be considered part of the GOP’s change in fortunes in the Mountain State. In 2000, George W. Bush became the first nonincumbent Republican presidential candidate to carry West Virginia since 1928. He did so by exploiting a schism within the Democratic party on surface mining. Bill Clinton had vacillated on the issue, while Al Gore was strongly opposed to the practice on environmental grounds. Bush, who came out in favor of surface mining, visited the state three times during his presidential campaign, including the weekend before Election Day. Capito, making her first bid for Congress, appeared at the rally with him.

“It was the day of my son’s last football game. And I was like ‘George Bush? Football?’ I went to George Bush, and my son lost in the playoffs,” she laughs. Bush captured West Virginia’s five electoral votes and, with Capito’s narrow victory, changed how the state’s voters saw the Republican party.

Michael Warren is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 19 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers