Republicans at Risk of Losing West Virginia’s 2nd District

by Nathan L. Gonzales November 22, 2013 · 10:55 AM EST

Democrats recruited West Virginia State Auditor Glen Gainer to run in the 1st District in the aftermath of the government shutdown. But the party’s best opportunity in the state might be in the 2nd District, with a candidate that some national strategists were wary of earlier this year.

Barack Obama received just 44 percent of the vote in the 2nd District in 2008, and 38 percent in 2012. But after a dozen years, GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito is leaving the seat to run for Senate, giving Democrats a fresh opportunity.

Democrats will likely nominate former state Democratic Chairman Nick Casey. While he’s very close to Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III, a great ally to have in the state, Casey is an imperfect candidate. Earlier this year, Democratic strategists in Washington tried to recruit an alternative candidate against him in the primary, but they were unsuccessful. State Del. Meshea Poore is also running, but Casey is considered the heavy favorite for the Democratic nomination.

As I wrote in a May 31 analysis for the Report, it would take an extraordinary set of circumstances for Democrats to take over this seat in 2014, but some of those pieces may be falling into place.

Casey had $521,000 in his campaign account on Sept. 30, which was nearly twice what all of the Republican candidates had combined. And the best GOP fundraiser in the field recently moved from Maryland to run for the seat.

Alex Mooney, a former state senator and state party chairman in Maryland, showed $184,000 on hand on Sept. 30. Thus far, much of the GOP confidence in holding the 2nd District hinges on the Republican lean of the district in federal races and Mooney not being the nominee. But that result can’t be ruled out.

Mooney’s brother, Patrick, is a direct-mail consultant and the candidate is likely to continue his fundraising pace. Meanwhile, everyone else is playing catch-up.

Charlotte Lane, 66, was a former International Trade commissioner under President George W. Bush and had $55,000 in the bank at the end of the third quarter. Financial consultant Ron Walters Jr., 29, had $97,000 in cash on hand at the same point.

Walters grew up in the state but moved back to West Virginia after attending graduate school and working in the United Kingdom. His father represents Kanawha County in the House of Delegates and his brother represents Putnam County in the state Senate. Pharmacist Ken Reed is also running and loaned his campaign $25,000 but showed no money on hand.

The filing deadline is coming up on Jan. 25 with a May 13 primary. Without a runoff provision, a plurality will take the nomination. The race could get expensive considering the overlap of the expensive Washington, D.C., media market into the Panhandle.

The relatively early primary should give Republicans a chance to recover, but by that point, Casey could have close to a $1 million head start on the GOP nominee.

Make no mistake that this is a tough race for Casey. Just two Democrats currently represent districts where the president performed worse: Jim Matheson in Utah and Nick J. Rahall II in West Virginia’s 3rd District just to the south.

Former NBC and CBS correspondent Ed Rabel could also run as a Mountain Party candidate in West Virginia’s 2nd. That could lower the threshold necessary for victory for the GOP and Democratic nominees.

No matter which way you slice it, this looks like a seat that the National Republican Congressional Committee or a GOP outside group is going to have to buy next year. West Virginia’s 2nd District is now rated Lean Republican from Republican Favored.