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Capito, Rockefeller race will be close, experts say

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Supporters of Shelley Moore Capito hold signs on Election Day asking her to consider running for Senate. Supporters of Shelley Moore Capito hold signs on Election Day asking her to consider running for Senate.
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West Virginia's 2014 senatorial election will be a close one, some political experts said Nov. 26 after Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., announced her plans to run for Democrat incumbent Sen. Jay Rockefeller's seat.

Two political experts said they weren't surprised at Capito's announcement but they were surprised at the timing.

"It's not surprising for those who watch West Virginia politics because not only is she the most prominent Republican in the state but she's also the most successful," said Robert Rupp, a West Virginia Wesleyan College political science professor. "She brings in a successful campaign record with never losing an election."

George Carenbauer, a Steptoe & Johnson attorney and elections expert, said the biggest issues for the 2014 election will be the fiscal cliff, budgetary votes on expenditures and revenues, implementation of the health care bill, raising taxes for the wealthiest Americans and discussions about cuts to veterans' benefits and Social Security.

"Those issues will be instrumental in determining who better represents West Virginia," Carenbauer said.

Carenbauer and Rupp had different views on who will come out as the winner. Rupp said 2014 will be a strong year for Republicans.

"We saw evidence of a Republican resurgence," Rupp said. "There are other things too. Look at the congressional elections and presidential elections. The second term for president is usually, with one exception in 1998, where the party that is in the White House does poorly in the congressional election. … The timing should be a good year for the GOP, and she's proven to be a good candidate."

Carenbauer, however, thinks there is an opportunity for the Democrats to reclaim the 2nd Congressional District along with defending the senatorial seat.

"(Sen. Rockefeller) is well liked. It's already clear that they're going to tie Rockefeller to Obama. That's their strategy. … It's a one trick pony, and it's not working. They tried that with Sen. Manchin, did it with Tomblin and with Congressman Rahall. It's very clear they will try it again and it's not going to work again."

Both experts agreed it will be a close race, however.

"This is going to be a very real contest," Carenbauer said. "It's a very serious contest on both sides, but in the end Sen. Rockefeller will win."

Rupp said Capito could give Rockefeller a run for his money.

"We had not had an election with two very strong contenders — very experienced contenders — like this in a long time," Rupp said, later adding he thinks there are several factors working in Capito's favor.

"West Virginia is trending slowly toward Republican and she has strong campaign experience in the state, although it's the 2nd District. Rockefeller, meanwhile, has the incumbent thing and what Democrats always have in West Virginia: Registration."