Elected: 2000, 7th term.
Born: November 25, 1953, Glen Dale
Education: Duke U., B.S. 1975, U. of VA, M.Ed. 1976
Professional Career: Career counselor, WV State Col., 1976-78; Dir., Educ. Info. Center, WV Board of Regents, 1978-81.
Family: married (Charles) , 3 children
Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican first elected in 2000, is a popular centrist who is unwavering in her advocacy of West Virginia’s coal industry. She unveiled plans to run for the Senate in 2014 even before Democrat Jay Rockefeller announced his retirement, and subsequent polls showed her as the heavy favorite to put the seat in the GOP column. By July 2014, friends and colleagues were so certain of her victory that they reportedly began addressing her as "senator."
Capito grew up in northern West Virginia and in the Washington, D.C., area, when her father, Arch Moore, served in the House from 1957 to 1969. He was elected governor in 1968 and 1972, and then again in 1984. He later was convicted and served three years in jail for fraud and extortion. Capito graduated from Duke University and the University of Virginia, and she was the first Cherry Blossom Princess elected to Congress. She worked for two years as a career counselor at West Virginia State University and then was director of the state’s Educational Information Center from 1978 to 1981. She served two terms in the West Virginia House of Delegates.
Her opportunity to follow in her father’s footsteps came when Democratic Rep. Bob Wise ran for governor in 2000. She benefited from a divisive Democratic primary that was won by Jim Humphreys, a former state senator and a lawyer who made a fortune in asbestos litigation. Capito, who supported abortion rights, started as the underdog, but Humphreys, who spent $6 million of his own money in the general election, proved to be a poor candidate. One of the few beneficiaries of Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush’s coattails that year, she won 48%-46%, with big margins in the Eastern Panhandle counties.
In the House, Capito has a largely moderate voting record, though she has become more inclined to side with her party since President Barack Obama took office. She has broken from conservatives over programs important to her state, such as continuing to fund rural air service and against drastic cutbacks in food stamps. She got a bill through the House in 2014 enabling state regulators to access a national mortgage system while protecting privacy laws. But an amendment she sponsored that year to an appropriations bill to increase funding for the Community Development Block Grant by $100 million while cutting funding for the Home Investment Partnerships Program by a similar amount was resoundingly rejected.
In the 112th Congress (2011-12), she opposed slashing funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and other federal programs on the tea party’s target list. After Democrats took control of Congress in 2007, Capito voted for five of the Democratic “Six for ‘06” agenda items. Four years earlier, she was vice chairman of a GOP task force to rally support for Bush’s law creating a Medicare prescription drug benefit for seniors.
In 2011, Capito took over as chairman of the Financial Services Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit. She has focused on the regulatory burdens facing community banks and credit unions. During conference negotiations on the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law in 2010, she unsuccessfully sought to remove a $150 billion fund to cover the cost of taking over a failing firm and to replace it with a streamlined bankruptcy process to ensure liquidation of companies.
Capito’s husband, Charles, is a longtime banking executive, something that has raised eyebrows among watchdog groups. She has said she makes her own decisions and told Esquire magazine in 2010, “No matter what your decisions are, no matter what your votes are, if you’re not playing by the rules you’re taking a big risk.” In his 2011 book Throw Them All Out about alleged financial improprieties among lawmakers, author Peter Schweizer wrote that the Capitos sold as much as $250,000 in Citigroup stock after Bush administration officials held a 2008 meeting with congressional leaders about the looming financial crisis. She wrote to the publisher asking for a retraction of “seriously misleading and false statements,” but Schweizer refused to back down. “I did not say that she attended the meeting, nor did I ever specifically say that she used insider information,” he told The Charleston Gazette.
Capito also has a seat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where she tries to secure highway projects for the state and looks out for the coal industry. After a deadly accident at the Sago mine in 2006, Capito supported legislation requiring that coal miners be given communications and tracking equipment and two-hour reserves of oxygen. The bill was passed and signed into law in 2006. After the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners at her state’s Upper Big Branch Mine, she introduced her own mine safety bill and opposed the version that was brought to the floor (but failed to pass) in December, contending that it imposed too big a regulatory burden on the mining industry. She is a frequent critic of the Environmental Protection Agency and amended a House-passed water bill in 2011 to require the EPA to analyze the economic impact of certain actions; the measure did not move in the Senate.
Democrats have repeatedly been frustrated trying to defeat Capito. In 2002, Democrats gave her a big break by again nominating Humphreys, who won another expensive primary and then ran an even more ineffective campaign than the one two years earlier. Capito won 60%-40%. In 2006, she had a well-funded opponent in attorney Mike Callaghan, a former state Democratic Party chairman. Capito outspent her opponent by nearly 4-to-1 and won 57%-43%. In 2008, longtime Byrd aide Anne Barth was her Democratic challenger and raised $1.2 million, which included support from the United Mine Workers and the abortion rights group EMILY’s List. Barth criticized Capito for her support of “big oil,” while Capito cited Barth’s backing from “anti-coal” politicians in Washington. Capito won again by 57%-43%.
After winning reelection in November 2012, she announced she would challenge Rockefeller for his Senate seat when it came up in 2014. Conservative groups grumbled about her centrism, but Rockefeller, in his mid-70s, clearly wanted no part of a tough race against Capito and announced his retirement after a poll showed her with a slight lead in a head-to-head matchup.
Capito's opponent became Nataile Tennant, West Virginia's secretary of state and a former television reporter. Tennant sought to make an issue of Capito's and her spouse's close ties to banking interests, saying that her "West Virginia first" approach contrasted with Capito’s record of "working for Wall Street banks where her husband works.” But Obama's deep unpopularity among West Virginians put her at a severe disadvantage, and by August, Capito had opened up a double-digit lead in polls.