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Turning Tide in the U.S. Senate

August 31, 2013
By MIKE MYER , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Here in West Virginia, we're going to do our part next year to shut down President Barack Obama's war on coal and, with any luck, some of his other crazy initiatives. Count on Mountain State voters to elect incumbent Rep. Shelley Capito, the Republican who represents the state's Second Congressional District, to the Senate.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is retiring and will not be a candidate in 2014. Capito is the hands-down favorite to succeed him.

Republicans already control the House of Representatives, and have attempted to curb Obama. But as long as Democrats - with nearly all of them loyal to the president - control the Senate, Obama is free to go his merry way.

In order to gain control of the Senate, Republicans need to gain six seats in the November 2014 elections. That's a tall order.

Analysts are, as you might expect, divided on the outlook. But good arguments can be made that Republicans will replace Democrat senators in South Dakota, Montana and West Virginia. Some see the outlooks in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina as "toss-ups."

If GOP candidates win in all seven of those states, the Republicans gain control of the Senate.

But wait. That may be good for the Republican Party, but what about West Virginia and the coal industry? Votes on energy issues tend not to be straight down party lines.

Perhaps the most vocal champion of coal in the Senate is Sen. Joe Manchin of our state - a Democrat. He was the only senator in his party to vote against confirmation of Gina McCarthy as new Environmental Protection Agency director.

Some Republican senators stand firmly with Obama in the war on coal. Six of them voted to confirm McCarthy.

Among senators up for re-election next year is Democrat Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. She has voted with coal's supporters at times. What if she's defeated by a Republican who, for some strange reason, is more interested in promoting oil and gas than coal?

Also up for reelection is Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. She and Obama see eye to eye on climate change.

Not up for re-election are a few Republicans who vote with Obama in his war on coal and a few Democrats, such as Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who oppose him.

Defending West Virginia against the White House assault isn't as simple as gaining a Republican majority in the Senate. Back to the race in the Mountain State: Capito is a shoo-in for the GOP nomination, even though a few Republicans, including Pat McGeehan, who formerly served in the House of Delegates from the First District, oppose her.

Most Democrats seem to be waiting to gauge which way the wind blows before deciding to take Capito on in the Senate race. Three people - Sheirl Fletcher of Morgantown, David Harless of Charleston and David Wamsley of Williamstown - have filed pre-candidacy papers as Democrats seeking the Senate seat. In all likelihood, the only one of the three you've ever heard of is Fletcher, who finished a very distant third in the 2010 primary to fill the Senate seat of the late Robert C. Byrd.

Other names are being bandied about among Democrats. They include Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick, Auditor Glen Gainer and former state Democrat Chairman Mike Callaghan.

If they want to avoid being embarrassed at the polls, none of the above will run. The Senate race is Capito's to lose - and that isn't likely to happen. She'll be running against Obama, not whatever Democrat ends up on the ballot against her, and that's a virtually certain recipe for success in West Virginia.

It's possible, though far from certain, Republicans will take over the Senate. Again, however, that doesn't take West Virginia out of the woods in regard to the war on coal. Manchin, who has been working to win some of his fellow Democrats over on the issue, may hold the key to that.

Myer can be reached via e-mail at mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

 
 

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