Capito is still the favorite

U.S. Rep. Shelley Capito received 72,359 votes in the primary election. West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant garnered 101,663 votes.

So how does that translate to Capito being the favorite over Tennant to win the U.S. Senate that will be on the ballot in November, an astute reader from Weirton asked me this week.

Good question.

Capito, R-W.Va., easily won the Republican nomination for the Senate on May 13. Likewise, there never was any doubt Tennant would capture the Democrat nomination.

In large measure because the Democrat Party’s leader, President Barack Obama, is heartily disliked by most West Virginians, many observers have labeled it a foregone conclusion that Capito will win the Senate seat. May 13’s results make it clear the contest will not be a walkover for Capito. Tennant will be a formidable opponent.

But even her landslide victory in the primary shows hints that Tennant will have an uphill battle.

Look at it this way: Capito captured 87 percent of the Republican primary votes. GOP loyalists who did not vote for her then will do so in November.

Tennant, on the other hand, won 78 percent of the Democrat primary votes. Many of the 28,000 or so people who voted for her two opponents will cast ballots for Capito in November.

Looking at primaries to gauge how general elections will go is a bit like deciding a weather forecast good for apple trees will result in a great orange crop. It isn’t necessarily so.

Voters tend to stay home in droves during primary elections. Just one in five registered voters participated in the primary. If history is a guide, turnout for the general election will be around twice that level.

Interest will be spurred by what to West Virginians will be an incredible amount of spending by both the Capito and Tennant campaigns. Millions of dollars in out-of-state money will flow to both candidates.

Control of the Senate is up for grabs in November, and deep-pockets leaders in both parties will see West Virginia as a critical state.

If voter participation in the past tells us anything, it is that younger voters – more likely to vote Democrat – will be a tiny minority of the whole. Older West Virginians, more likely to support Capito, vote in much greater percentages.

One indication of how reluctant many Democrats are to vote for any Democrat can be seen in results from the 2002 and 2008 primary elections. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., ran in both of them (he’s retiring, opening the way for Capito or Tennant).

During the 2008 primary, Rockefeller got 271,425 votes – more than two and a half times what Tennant managed this week. Yes, that was a presidential election year, so more people turned out.

But look at 2002, also a midterm primary. Rockefeller got 198,327 votes that time – twice as many as Tennant received this week.

Back to spending: Some donors may have written Tennant off already. According to the most recent campaign finance report she filed with the Federal Election Commission, she had raised just $1,746,716 during the reporting period. Capito had raised $4,347,636.

Going forward, the FEC reports show Tennant has just $1,151,464 left to spend – while Capito has $4,317,989. Money talks in election campaigns.

Then there’s the wild card – Obama. Tennant has tried hard to distance herself from her party’s president. But with more than five months to go before the general election, West Virginians – Democrats and Republicans – will be hearing more and more that makes them angry about the president.

Rightly or wrongly, many will take that out on Tennant.

Then there’s the personal factor. Tennant might win if she were facing a second-rate Republican campaigner. Capito is far from that. She’ll be our next senator.

Mike Myer is executive editor of The Intelligencer and the Wheeling News-Register. He can be reached via e-mail at