Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and Democrat Natalie Tennant captured primary wins on Tuesday, setting the stage for a historic U.S. Senate showdown in November that will give West Virginia its first female senator.
Capito, a seven-term congresswoman and daughter of former Gov. Arch Moore, and Tennant, the state's secretary of state, each cruised to victory and will square off to replace Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who is retiring after 30 years.
West Virginia has become increasingly Republican, and Capito enters the general election contest as the heavy favorite. If elected, she would be the first Republican senator from West Virginia since 1959.
In West Virginia, Democratic names like Byrd and Rockefeller dominated politics for decades, but since 2000, the state has voted Republican in presidential elections. The transformation is widely expected to continue this fall as Republicans capitalize on voter antipathy toward Obama, who lost all of the state's 55 counties in 2012.
Capito's planned departure from the House created a messy GOP primary in her 2nd Congressional District that stretches across the state. Alex Mooney, the former chairman of the Maryland GOP, who moved to the Mountaineer State took an early lead with around 35 percent of the vote over a field of six other candidates led by pharmacist Ken Reed.
In his appeal to voters, Mooney's campaign said he moved to West Virginia to "live in freedom, and he'll fight Obama to preserve it."
Reed plays up his West Virginia roots and talks in his ad about "how bad Obama and the EPA are hurting us."
Democrats are hoping that their nominee, former state party chairman Nick Casey, can snatch a GOP seat. He beat state delegate Meshea Poore.
One of the most endangered House Democrats is 19-term Rep. Nick Rahall, who will face Democrat-turned-Republican Evan Jenkins in the fall.
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