Historically, West Virginia was a solidly Democratic state, with its rural and unionized industrial character. In fact, starting with the New Deal, the state only voted Republican in “landslide years” (1956, 1972, and 1984). Those voting habits changed in 2000, when Clinton administration policy regarding coal mining, as well as social/gun rights issues, enabled George W. Bush to carry the state in 2000. In fact, had this gamble by his campaign (specifically Karl Rove) not paid off, Al Gore would have been President regardless of what would have happened in Florida that year.
Since 2000, the state has steadily moved towards the Republicans, to the point that Mitt Romney carried the state with over 60% of the vote – President Obama did not carry a single county. To further illustrate the unpopularity of the Obama administration here, a convicted felon got more than 40% of the vote in the Democratic Presidential primary last year.
This political movement has only recently begun to show up in Congressional races. And with the retirement of 30 year Democratic incumbent senator “Jay” Rockefeller, there promises to be a competitive race here, both in the primary and in the general election.
On the Republican side, Congresswoman Shelley Capito (daughter of a popular former governor) is running. There have been some grumblings from conservatives about her voting record, however. JMC Analytics and Polling recently polled this race, and found that while Rep. Capito starts off with a substantial amount of goodwill from primary voters, when aspects of her voting record are brought up to poll respondents, primary voters are interested in someone else being the GOP nominee (Results of that poll are here). This promises to be one of several competitive Congressional contests in 2014 that will determine the balance of power in the Senate.