CHARLESTON, W.Va. — One year ago, Richard Ojeda was preparing to leave the West Virginia Senate to focus on his presidential bid, an effort he would end before the month was over.
Ojeda’s White House run followed his campaign for the 3rd Congressional District seat, which he lost to Carol Miller despite a performance boosted by a Democratic shift among voters.
Now, Ojeda has set his sights on another office: U.S. Senate.
“We need somebody willing to go up there and fight to bring opportunities to this area,” he said Monday. “I’m not going to blow smoke up people’s backsides and tell them things that they want to hear.”
The former Logan County senator filed paperwork with the Secretary of State’s Office to run as a Democrat for the seat, which Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito currently holds.
Ojeda, a retired Army major, served in the state Senate between January 2017 and January 2019. As a state legislator, Ojeda pushed legalizing medical marijuana and was an instrumental voice during the 2018 statewide teachers’ strike.
In an interview with MetroNews, Ojeda said the U.S. Senate is not doing enough and blamed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel, R-Ky., for blocking action by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.
“I think that we need somebody from West Virginia to go to Washington, D.C., and be a thorn in his side so that legislation does not die in the manner that he kills it,” he said. “I think there is nobody better that can do it than I.”
Ojeda noted his campaign is focused on bringing and keeping jobs in West Virginia; he proposed increasing manufacturing opportunities for coal miners who can transition into related fields and a national base pay for educators and correctional officers.
“Let’s say you draw a line and say this is the basic salary of an educator that has a bachelor’s degree that is going to teach. It’s that way across the board and across the country,” he said. “The only difference is there is a cost-of-living allowance, which means if you’re a teacher in Los Angeles, California, you’re going to get a larger cost-of-living allowance than someone who lives in West Virginia.”
Ojeda said the change would keep teachers in West Virginia.
“Our kids deserve to have quality teachers, and the truth is that a teacher that is raised in West Virginia is more passionate to teach the children of West Virginia than she is anywhere else,” he added.
After ending his presidential campaign, Ojeda co-founded CBDOils.com, an online store selling products containing a compound extracted from cannabis. Ojeda said Monday he stepped away from the business to focus on his Senate run.
Ojeda will face at least one opponent in the May 12 primary; activist Paula Jean Swearengin also filed paperwork Monday.
“I think that we need somebody who is a fighter who will absolutely make the other side tremble,” Ojeda said, pointing to a West Virginia Republican Party statement calling him an “anti-Trump tyrant.”
“They know that I absolutely can beat Shelley Moore Capito,” he added. “I don’t think that Paula Jean Swearengin can do that, which is why I’ve thrown my hat in the ring.”
Swearengin, who challenged Sen. Joe Manchin in the 2018 Democratic Party, criticized Ojeda for his past political decisions. She listed his multiple runs for public office since 2016, as well as his vote for President Donald Trump in the 2016 general election.
“I don’t know which Richard Ojeda I’m running against,” she said Monday.
“We need real people servants and a real West Virginia voice in Washington, and it’s going to take us fighting back and investing in ourselves.”
The U.S. Senate contest is forecasted in the Republican Party’s favor, and Capito’s campaign already has a financial advantage of $2.4 million cash on hand. Allen Whitt, the president of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia, launched his campaign for the GOP nomination in October.