CHARLESTON - Candidates are already lining up for a shot at representing West Virginia in Congress, but that part of the 2014 ballot still has gaps for both parties.
All three of the state's U.S. House seats are up next year, while U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat, is retiring instead of attempting a sixth term.
The midterm election is already gaining a profile at the legislative level: With voters to decide the entire 100-member House of Delegates, the Democrats have seen their majority ebb to 54 seats. The partisan stakes are also high for the federal races. Rep. Nick Rahall has become the sole Democrat in the state's House delegation, while West Virginia hasn't sent a Republican to the Senate since the late 1950s.
U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito is seeking to change that, announcing for Rockefeller's seat. Two other Republicans have also filed with the Federal Election Commission: Pat McGeehan, a former one-term delegate, and Richard LeMasters, a retired longtime state employee. But no one from Rockefeller's party has registered with the FEC, which is required if a candidate has raised or spent more than $5,000.
"We're very excited about our recruiting efforts on all levels," said state GOP Chairman Conrad Lucas. "We look forward to a sweep of federal races in West Virginia next year. It is very telling on how much things have changed in West Virginia to see that the Democrats have all but sacrificed a U.S. Senate seat."
Several other West Virginians have filed pre-candidacy papers with the Secretary of State's office. While the official filing period for the state's 2014 ballot doesn't begin until January, and Senate candidates must then pay a $1,740 fee, pre-candidacy status is free and non-binding. Sheirl Fletcher, a former Republican state legislator, and developer David Wamsley are Democrats testing the waters in this fashion. So is Martin Staunton, a former veteran broadcaster running for Senate as an independent, and Republican Cody Regan.
Capito has kept her 2nd District seat in the GOP column since 2000. Delegate Meshea Poore is the latest Democrat to file. The Kanawha County lawyer has been a state legislator since 2009, and believes her party's best chance to recapture that post lies in rallying voters around what the future may hold for the oft-struggling state.
"I think the prospects are extremely high" for Democrats, said Poore, 37, before submitting her paperwork Friday. "(West Virginians) are going to want to know what the next step is for them, what's on the horizon, and that's what I'm going to focus my campaign on."
Poore joins fellow Democrats Nick Casey, a former party chairman and veteran lobbyist, and Matt Dunn, an Eastern Panhandle native and Capitol Hill staff lawyer. Two Republicans have filed so far with the FEC to keep that seat in GOP hands. Charlotte Lane is a longtime state political figure and a U.S. International Trade Commission member under President George W. Bush. Alex Mooney moved to West Virginia from Maryland, where he chaired that state's GOP and was a state senator until losing re-election in 2010.
That race's pre-candidacy filers include Democrat Steven Gower of Weston and three Republicans: former longtime legislator Larry Faircloth, fellow Eastern Panhandle resident Robert Fluharty, and Jim Moss of Putnam County.
Several of these candidates have already boasted of strong campaign finance numbers as 2014 nears. Reports reflecting money raised and spent during the latest three-month filing period are due to the FEC on Monday.
West Virginia's remaining U.S. House members, Republican David McKinley and Democrat Nick Rahall, have no primary or general election challengers yet, according to FEC and Secretary of State's Office filings. As a result, such national political analysts as Stuart Rothenberg, Charles Cook and Larry Sabato aren't even including McKinley's 1st District seat in their rankings of competitive 2014 House races. Rahall's seat is rated in favor of Democrats to varying degrees among them.
But all three observers are keeping Capito's seat in the GOP column. Rockefeller's seat, meanwhile is at best for Democrats a toss-up in Cook's analysis. Sabato's Center for Politics at the University of Virginia sees a likely Republican takeover of that seat, while Rothenberg has prospects leaning in that direction.