Alex Mooney’s trek from Maryland to the Mountain State

The campaign of West Virginia 2nd District congressional candidate Democrat Nick Casey did not wait long in its news release about yesterday’s debate with Republican Alex Mooney to get to the issue.

“You can’t be a Marylander and become a West Virginian who knows the state just by renting a house across the border,” read the third paragraph of Casey’s statement.

Casey wants to make sure that you know that until just last year Mooney lived in Maryland.  Sure, it was just across the Potomac River in Frederick County, but it most certainly was not West Virginia.

Mooney graduated from college in New Hampshire, where he ran unsuccessfully for office, and moved to Maryland where he was elected to the statehouse and served as chairman of the Maryland GOP.

And that is the political Achilles heel of this hard-charging, ambitious and very conservative candidate.

West Virginia is a paradox; it is typically a warm and welcoming place, yet it is also wary of “outsiders.”  Maybe that’s just part of our Mountain State makeup or perhaps the dearth of people who move here from elsewhere.  “So, you’re not from around here.”

The harshest critics of U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller still derisively call him a carpetbagger, even though he moved here 50 years ago!  The Rockefeller experience should tell Mooney that even winning the election won’t dissipate the issue.

Mooney patiently answers the carpetbagger question, which has come, and will continue to come, in every interview.  He says it was his choice to come to West Virginia where he could “live in freedom.”   It’s a decent response, and similar to the old saw by transplants:  “I wasn’t born here, but I got here as soon as I could.”

But this is politics and when a politician moves to a new location and immediately runs for office, the imprimatur of opportunism is inescapable.  That’s a significant liability.  What does Mooney have to do, what can he do, to convince a majority of 2nd District voters that he’s one of us?

In some ways, it should be easier for Mooney than Rockefeller if, for no other reason, he doesn’t bear the famous name that is associated with the kind of wealth unfamiliar to every West Virginian.  As hard as Jay Rockefeller tried, there was always going to be some class disconnect between the politician and the people.

Mooney has to hope that as a down-the-line conservative he can convince a majority of voters that he shares their values; anti-Obama, anti-EPA, pro-gun, opposed to Obamacare, supports smaller government and greater individual freedom, etc.

As residents of the state’s eastern panhandle know, it’s a short drive on good roads from Frederick, Maryland across the Potomac River into West Virginia.  However, in the case of Alex Mooney and his congressional race, the voyage to becoming a West Virginian is a longer and more difficult journey.







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