West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant is said to be seriously considering running for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate in 2014. The seat is opening because of the retirement of long-time Senator Jay Rockefeller.
There is a long list of Democrats who have already passed on the race: Nick Rahall, Ralph Baxter, Nick Preservati, Booth Goodwin, Carte Goodwin, Robin Davis and Gaston Caperton among them.
That does not mean, however, that Tennant should be considered a last resort. In some Democratic circles, Tennant has been the logical choice all along.
She has a number of factors in her favor.
Tennant already has high statewide name recognition. A poll earlier this year by Mark Blankenship Enterprises found Tennant with a commanding 40 percent plurality in a Primary with Davis (12%), Preservati (1%) and Baxter (1%), and the rest (46 percent) undecided.
She is good on the stump. Tennant, like Senator Joe Manchin, is comfortable in her skin and effective on the campaign trail, where she is ready with an easy smile, a laugh and a handshake.
Tennant was significantly underfunded in the Special Gubernatorial Election of 2011, but still did reasonably well. She finished third, behind Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and then-House Speaker Rick Thompson. Tennant finished second in Kanawha County, the state’s largest.
But Tennant also has significant hurdles.
The Republican nominee for the Senate will be 2nd District Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito. She already has a statewide campaign up and running with over $2 million on hand.
Capito has a voting record she has to defend, but she’s used to that. Capito is also good on the stump and quick with answers to tough questions. Don’t underestimate her ability to get tough in a campaign.
The National Republican Party is already counting the Senate seat here. Big money will flow into West Virginia to ensure that happens. Tennant would also be in line for considerable national help, but if she can’t move the needle, that money could go elsewhere.
Tennant may also be thinking about the impact of a high-profile Senate race on her political future, should she lose. And, if she lost badly, that would be tough on the political resume.
Tennant is said to be interested in the 2016 Governor’s race. A 2014 Senate race would be grueling. Negative attack ads are inevitable. Right now, West Virginians have a generally positive impression of Tennant. An intense media barrage could inflict damage that carries over into the next election.
Right now, Tennant is in an ideal position. She can easily win re-election to the Secretary of State’s job in 2016 or set her sights on becoming the first female Governor in the state’s history.
Meanwhile, Tennant’s profile is enhanced by the considerable speculation that she may get in the U.S. Senate race.
Contemplating such a significant race must be stressful personally, but politically Tennant is in the catbird’s seat. It’s just that you don’t get to stay there forever, especially if you have higher political aspirations.