CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Two former state political party chairmen are among the candidates in West Virginia's 2nd congressional district primary race left wide open by Rep. Shelley Moore Capito's decision to run for a U.S. Senate seat.
Seven Republicans and two Democrats hope to earn their parties' nominations on May 13 and advance to the November general election. The GOP is looking to keep its grip on the seat currently held by the seven-term Republican Capito, who is seeking the Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Jay Rockefeller.
Former state Democratic Party chairman Nick Casey is considered the front-runner in a two-candidate primary with backing from business, labor and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin. His opponent is state Delegate Meshea Poore. Both are attorneys.
In a state that has been growing slightly more Republican in recent years, the GOP plans to make Democrats' policies on energy a central issue, including the Obama administration's proposed stringent regulations for new coal-fired power plants. President Barack Obama won just 35.5 percent of the statewide vote in 2012, losing in every West Virginia county.
National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ian Prior said he's "extremely confident" the GOP will retain Capito's seat and that the Democratic candidate in the fall "is going to be unable to distance him or herself from President Obama, his disastrous economic policies and his 'war on coal.' "
Robert Rupp, professor of political science at West Virginia Wesleyan College, said a crowded GOP field "could end with a divided party or a wounded candidate." But having so many in the primary also explains the party's vitality since 2000.
The 2nd district stretches more than 300 miles from the Ohio River on the state's western border to the fast-growing Eastern Panhandle. Three GOP candidates live in the Charleston area and three live in the state's extended Washington, D.C., suburbs.
One candidate has been in West Virginia only a short time. Most of Alex Mooney's political career has been spent in Maryland, where he was a state senator for more than a decade and then served as that state's Republican Party chairman.
The lone female GOP candidate is Charlotte Lane, a former commissioner of the U.S. International Trade Commission and the state Public Service Commission.
The other Republican candidates are Charles Town private investigator Robert Fluharty, former state legislator Steve Harrison, Hurricane businessman Jim Moss, Berkeley Springs pharmacist Ken Reed and Charleston financial consultant Ron Walters Jr.
Fluharty, Moss, Reed and Walters have no prior experience in political office.
On the Democratic side, Casey wants to focus on improving roads and promoting coal, natural gas and other energy resources to bring jobs to the state and keep young adults from heading out-of-state.
Casey headed the state Democratic Party from 2004 until 2010 and served as a lobbyist at the Legislature for decades. He said he's running for Congress "to help end the partisan gridlock that is tearing our country apart. I can work through disagreements with others and get results."
Poore, trying to become the first black from West Virginia elected to the House, said jobs, veterans, education and access to broadband Internet are at the forefront of her campaign.