Rockefeller's exit from Senate paves way for Capito

Few observers of West Virginia politics were surprised by the news Friday morning that Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller had decided not to seek re-election in 2014. At age 75 and after 30 years in the Senate, Rockefeller had decided to end a political career that began with his election to the state House of Delgates back in 1966. That same year, he became engaged to Sharon Percy, daughter of winning Republican Senate nominee Charles Percy of Illinois, who quipped: ???Some of my best friends are Democrats, but I never thought my daughter would marry one.???

The news of Rockefeller???s departure was clearly good news for certain Republican Senate nominee and seven-term Rep. Shelly Moore Capito. Having long made clear her intention to run for the Senate regardless of what Rockefeller did next year, Capito was actually shown to be leading her state???s five-term senator in some polls. With Rockefeller out, Capito (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 70.11 percent) is considered better than even money against the Democrat who eventually emerges from what is sure to be a crowded field.

As speculation grew last year that Rockefeller would call it quits, much of the talk of a Democratic heir centered on former State Party Chairman Carte Goodwin, who was appointed to fill the seat of the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) in July 2010 and held it until then-Gov. Joe Manchin won it in the special election later that year. A close ally of Manchin, Goodwin is well-connected throughout Democratic circles.

After Goodwin, the Democrats mentioned include former Gov. Gaston Caperton, who last held office in 1996, State Senate President Jeff Kessler, former West Virginia University President David Hardesty and Rick Thompson, speaker of the House of Delegates.

Before Rockefeller???s announcement, there was some grumbling about Capito???s record from conservative groups, such as the Club for Growth. The controversial votes she cast included support for the ???cash for clunkers??? legislation favored by the Obama administration, opposing the blocking of ???Davis Bacon??? wage requirements, and the McCain-Feingold campaign reform legislation of 2002.

But other prominent figures on the right weighed in for her, among them former Rep. Mick Staton (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 100 percent) and wife Lynn Staton, a state GOP vice chairwoman.

???Shelley appeals to a broad section of voters here who aren???t as conservative as I am,??? said Staton, who left no doubt he was supporting the congresswoman. ???Now I???m strongly pro-life and Shelley isn???t and there are a lot of people who share my views on that issue who aren???t happy with her. What I tell them is she???s a heckuva lot better than any liberal Democrat.???

Lynn Staton pointed out that the Club for Growth ???does good work, but it has to remember that not every state is the same. You can???t put up Sharron Angle or Christine O???Donnell (defeated conservative GOP Senate nominees in Nevada and Delaware in 2010) and expect to win???not here.???

For now, Capito looks to be a fairly good bet to become her state???s first woman senator and its first Republican in the Senate since 1958.