Some very early polling numbers on the 2014 U.S. Senate race in West Virginia are out. The survey by Republican-leaning Harper Polling is little more than a snapshot on name recognition and popularity, since the race hasn’t taken shape yet, but some of the findings are interesting discussion points.
First, Shelley Moore Capito has to be pleased. The Republican 2nd District Congresswoman polls strong in hypothetical match-ups and approval ratings. Fifty-five percent of those questioned statewide have a favorable opinion of Capito, while only 28 percent view her unfavorably.
Those numbers compare with Senator Joe Manchin, whose favorables are nearly identical, 57 percent. However, Manchin’s negatives are higher, at 36 percent. That could be because Manchin was criticized by his Republican opponent John Raese in the 2012 election or because the poll was taken after Manchin made statements about gun control that did not sit well with many West Virginians.
In a hypothetical Primary Election race between Capito and 1st District Congressman David McKinley, Capito is favored by 71 percent, compared with just 15 percent for McKinley. Additionally, Capito even has a significant advantage (46%-33%) in McKinley’s district.
Another hypothetical has Capito favored 51 percent to 32 percent (with 18 percent undecided) in a race against Democratic 3rd District Congressman Nick Rahall. Capito has already announced she’s running for the seat being vacated by the retiring Jay Rockefeller. Rahall says he’s thinking about it.
The poll finds, however, that Rahall has been hurt by ads against him by the National Republican Congressional Committee. Pollster Brock McCleary says the Charleston-based ads in the last election “bled into the district just north of his (Capito’s 2nd district).”
That contributes to a higher unfavorable rating against Rahall in the 2nd (29% favorable, 38% unfavorable). Statewide, Rahall’s favorables and unfavorable are nearly identical, meaning if Rahall does run, he has some work to do in the 1st and 2nd districts where he is less well known.
The poll asked questions about other possible Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Carte Goodwin and state Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis. What the survey tells us is that most West Virginians simply don’t know Goodwin, even though he filled the U.S. Senate vacancy for four months in 2010 after Senator Robert Byrd’s death.
Voters know a little more about Davis, probably because she ran a successful statewide campaign for re-election last year. Still, 38 percent have never heard of Davis, while another 20 percent have heard of her, but have no opinion.
Despite numbers that seem to give Capito a decided edge in the 2014 race, the respected Cook Political Report’s first take has it as a toss-up. That’s likely because while poll numbers today are fun to talk about, they are little more than indicators of name recognition and general perceptions.
A lot can and will change before the campaign begins in earnest.