Who Will Be West Virginia’s First Female Senator?

Two women will likely square off for West Virginia’s Senate seat

Women have made substantial progress over the past 20 years in securing seats in the U.S. Senate. However, progress has been wildly uneven across the country. California, Washington and New Hampshire have all-female Senate representation, and Maine did as well until Olympia Snowe’s recent retirement. But other states have never elected a women to the upper house. One of the holdouts is my home state of West Virginia, but that will almost certainly change in 2014.

On the Republican side, Congresswoman Shelly Moore Capito is well-placed to capture the nomination, though she may have to overcome a Tea Party challenger. On the Democratic side, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant is the early favorite.

Based on my amateur reporting around the state capitol the past few days, this should be a race to watch. Capito has two advantages. First, her father was the governor and West Virginians tend to look warmly on political dynasties (Randolphs, Manchins, Moores etc.). Second, West Virginia is becoming more friendly to Republicans: The GOP holds more seats in the State House of Delegates than they have since 1928. On the other hand, Tennant has run for statewide office and won, whereas this will be Capito’s first effort to appeal to voters outside of her district.

Both women are widely regarded as intelligent and personable. A Tennant-Capito matchup could thus be a (gasp) civil campaign that focuses on real issues. In any case, the end result will be West Virginia sending a woman to the U.S. Senate for the first time in its 150-year history.