It didn't take long for several conservative groups to register their displeasure with GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito's decision to run for Senate in West Virginia Monday. The Club for Growth kicked things off, and the Senate Conservatives Fund quickly followed suit. But, in a state with a thin GOP bench where Capito is a star, does it really matter?
The groups' interventions in GOP primaries are only successful if there's an alternative candidate for them to back. It's very early, but in West Virginia, that isn't looking to be the case.
The Club for Growth's statement panning Capito actually highlights three 2012 Senate races where -- though the Club did not support the GOP nominee -- they did not have a credible GOP challenger to back instead. The statement highlights Reps. Denny Rehberg and Rick Berg in Montana and North Dakota, and former Rep. Heather Wilson in New Mexico. Of the three, none ultimately had a viable primary opponent (though Lt. Gov. John Sanchez opposed Wilson for a time, his candidacy ultimately fizzled).
"We have no idea if there will be any other candidates in this race, and that is not the point," said Club spokesperson Barney Keller in an email after the announcement.
Still, one West Virginia Democratic strategist notes that a Republican primary would likely be a low-turnout affair, opening the door for a more extreme candidate to beat Capito.
And several West Virginia political observers speculated that serial candidate John Raese could always decide to mount another bid. "It's hard to predict what John Raese's going to do," said one source of the Republican businessman, who lost most recently to Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in November.
Raese has also lost to Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller (in 1984) and to Capito's father, former Gov. Arch Moore, in the 1988 GOP gubernatorial primary. He launched unsuccessful Senate bids in 2006 and 2010 as well.
In the summer of 2010, Raese called Capito "very liberal" -- at the time, both were deciding on bids in the special election to replace the late Sen. Robert Byrd, and Raese said Capito's decision would not be a factor in his (she decided against a run).
Raese has self-funded in the past and could likely do so again, but Capito's early announcement means she can (and will need to) focus on fundraising over the next few months.
Bill Maloney, the unsuccessful Republican nominee for governor in the 2010 special election as well as this year's gubernatorial race, could mount a Senate bid and also has self-funding ability. One West Virginia GOP operative doubts the businessman would run again coming off the back-to-back campaigns.
There's also David McKinley, who represents the state's First Congressional District. McKinley, in an interview with Roll Call, didn't rule out a run and expressed surprise at Capito's early announcement.
But even if someone else runs, the well-known and well-liked Capito looks well-positioned.
"I don't think it's a stretch to say Capito is wildly popular among Republicans," said West Virginia GOP pollster Mark Blankenship, calling her one of two stars of West Virginia politics (the other being Manchin). He added that he doesn't think there's anyone else with the standing among West Virginia voters that would create a viable option.
"I don't foresee anybody at this point that would step in and beat her," said the GOP operative.