CHARLESTON, W.Va. — After coasting through the Democratic primary, Natalie Tennant now embarks upon the hard part: Winning a U.S. Senate seat her party has held for more than five decades against deeper-financed Republican challenger Shelley Moore Capito.
Tennant, West Virginia’s secretary of state, easily captured the nomination Tuesday over Williamstown school psychologist David Wamsley and Buckhannon’s Dennis Melton and immediately challenged Capito to five televised debates between now and November.
By 8 p.m. Tuesday night, MetroNews was projecting Tennant and Capito would face off in November’s general election, vying to replace the retiring Jay Rockefeller, a seat national analysts suspect is ripe for GOP pickup.
“I want the race to be about the issues that are important to to West Virginia families—that’s jobs, the economy, our way of life in West Virginia, health care,” Capito told MetroNews. “We are under fire here in West Virginia. I think people are discouraged and I think I, with my proven record, have a voice that can go to the United States Senate and be strong.”
“This race is not about me. It’s not about Congresswoman Capito,” Tennant said. “It’s about the people of West Virginia and how they want to shape the future of the state.”
By the point Democratic party leaders enticed the 46-year-old Tennant to run for Senate last September, after a handful of potential candidates declined, Capito had nearly a year’s head start in the race.
“Shelley’s been running for years and Natalie just started running in the past year, so there’s a big, big difference,” conceded Democratic Party state chairman Larry Puccio.
There’s also a wide gap in fundraising, with Capito’s $4.3 million roughly quadrupling what Tennant has on hand. A late-April DMF Research poll showed Capito leading 46 to 36 percent in a potential general election face-off.
Party leaders are hopeful Tennant can outperform contributions—and prevent Capito from poaching Democratic votes—by playing up the Washington outsider angle. Tennant was elected secretary of state in 2008 and 2012 with an unsuccessful bid for governor in between.
“Natalie has always done extremely well in West Virginia with no money being in her campaigns,” Puccio said.”Natalie’s a very sellable product. She loves to get out shake hands, talk to people and touch people.
“Natalie just needs to continue to be Natalie Tennant—the Natalie Tennant that was the Mountaineer (mascot) at WVU, the Natalie Tennant that gets out and is at the fire hall on a Thursday night talking to you and hearing what your concerns are.”
Though registered Democrats remain a majority in the state, anti-Obama sentiment is so strong the president has become somewhat of a common adversary for Tennant and Capito, particularly in regard to his stance on stricter regulation of coal-fired power plants.
While Tennant has been lukewarm about her feelings on the Affordable Care Act, Capito cited a need to overhaul it. On Tuesday night she said business owners in the state have reported their premiums rising by 10 to 30 percent.
“People are losing their doctors, their deductibles are higher, they’re losing their ability to make choices,” Capito said.
“This healthcare bill is not working for West Virginia. I want to get to the Senate to repair it—if it can be repaired—until we can replace it.”
Tennant, in speaking to MetroNews late Tuesday night, reiterated her challenge for a series of debates with Capito.
“I’m proud of my record and I’m proud of my vision, and I’ll stand up to defend it anytime and anywhere,” Tennant said. “That’s what should be expected of us as candidates.”
Repeating her characterization of Capito as beholden to Wall Street backers, Tennant said: “Congresswoman Capito represents Washington and has been part of the problem in Washington.”