Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Gop Hopes to End Dems' Hold on W.Va

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Gop Hopes to End Dems' Hold on W.Va

Article excerpt

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. -- On the wall of the Bluebird restaurant and convenience store here is a T-shirt that says, "West Virginia is more than just coal. We also have pepperoni rolls."

With last week's proposal from President Barack Obama's administration to drastically cut power plant emissions, some fear that the coal industry may have the shorter shelf life. The Democratic Party's long hold on the Mountain State is on the bubble, too.

"I don't think West Virginia is leaving the Democratic Party as much as the Democratic Party is leaving West Virginia under this president," said U.S. Rep. David McKinley, a Republican who represents northern West Virginia -- including Clarksburg, Wheeling and Morgantown -- and believes his own takeover of a longtime Democratic seat in 2010 reflected the shifting landscape.

West Virginia long enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with a Democratic Party that supported coal miners and unions. But more recent Democratic policies, from social liberalism to environmentalism, have fanned the winds of change in West Virginia and across Appalachian coal country.

Republicans now hold 52 of the 62 U.S. House seats in Appalachia, a region comprising West Virginia and parts of Pennsylvania and 11 other states. Democrats have lost at least a dozen of those seats over the past two election cycles, and they well could cede new ground this year, including some in West Virginia, said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan publication of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

"I think it really accelerated after Obama got in office," Mr. Kondik said.

In West Virginia, three House races and a Senate race this year could provide additional evidence of a longtime blue state turning red -- and the Senate contest also could help the GOP complete a takeover of Congress.

In an article last month in Politico, Mr. Kondik described U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, a 19-term incumbent who represents the 3rd District in southern West Virginia, as "probably the most endangered Democratic incumbent in the country." The only Democratic House member left in the state, he faces Republican Evan Jenkins, a state senator who switched parties last year.

In the 1st District, Mr. McKinley faces Democrat Glen Gainer, the West Virginia state auditor, who said partisan posturing over coal and clean air is part of the "dysfunction" in Washington, D.C., that he's running to overcome.

The clean-air proposal is "just a misguided policy that we all have to get behind and change," he said.

Squaring off in the 2nd District, which cuts across the middle of the state, are Nick Casey, former chairman of the state Democratic Party, and Republican Alex Mooney, a Maryland transplant. The seat is one the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hopes to win through its "Red to Blue" initiative.

The 2nd District slot is open because Republican U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito is running for the Senate seat to be given up by the retiring Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat. West Virginia hasn't elected a Republican senator since the 1950s, so for the GOP, which already controls the House and needs to pick up six seats to take the Senate, electing Ms. Capito would be a boon in more ways than one.

Ms. Capito, the daughter of former Gov. Arch Moore, couldn't be reached. She faces Democrat Natalie Tennant, the West Virginia secretary of state, who last week was on a tour to promote her energy policy that includes the continued use of coal.

"For us in West Virginia, it starts with the resources God has blessed us with," she said on a call from the road. "I refuse to accept that we have to choose between clear air and good-paying jobs."

'Obama is just wrong on this'

When the Environmental Protection Agency issued its clean-air plan last week, Ms. Capito, Mr. McKinley and other Republicans immediately vowed to fight it. Meanwhile, Democratic candidates were placed in the awkward position of criticizing it and the president, the titular head of the party. …

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