Former Maryland state legislator Alex Mooney won a crowded Republican primary race in West Virginia's 2nd Congressional District Tuesday night, instantly becoming the favorite to replace GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito in the House and handing the outside groups that supported him a big win in an open House seat.
Mooney had 33 percent of the vote with 59 percent of precincts reporting when the Associated Press called the race. Former George W. Bush administration official Charlotte Lane and pharmacist Ken Reed trailed with 20 percent of the vote each, and four other Republicans divided the remainder.
Mooney will face attorney Nick Casey, who won the Democratic nomination. The district favors Republicans (Mitt Romney won there by a 22-point margin in 2012), though Democrats hope the local party brand remains strong enough to challenge for the seat. Capito is running for the Senate, and she and Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant easily won their primaries Tuesday night to set up a rare woman-versus-woman general-election matchup in the Mountain State.
There was no clear favorite in the seven-candidate Republican primary race, but Mooney outspent his opponents and attracted outside support from groups like the Tea Party Express and Citizens United. He spent more than $400,000 on the primary race, and he benefited from another $161,000 in outside spending supporting him, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
This was the first House primary for a candidate endorsed by Mooney's highest-profile backer, the Senate Conservatives Fund. The antiestablishment group, which sounded unhappy notes about Capito's Senate run but couldn't mount an intra-party challenge against her, spent over $60,000 on radio ads backing Mooney and announced in a victory statement Tuesday night that it had raised $30,000 for him during the primary.
"It's not enough to elected Republicans," the SCF ad's narrator said. "We need to elect conservative Republicans." Mooney is one of six House Republican candidates endorsed by SCF this year, and any victories would provide endorsees with the electoral base to make a future run for higher office. When SCF made its first House endorsement, for Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, the group's statement alluded to the possibility of a future bid for the Senate.
Lane was the only other candidate to get outside financial support. Women Lead PAC, which supports Republican women candidates, spent slightly more than $25,000 backing her.
Opponents sought to counter Mooney's spending advantage by painting him as a carpetbagger on the hunt for a congressional seat. He considered running for Maryland's 6th District in 2012 but decided against it — and moved to friendlier, more conservative pastures in West Virginia. Mooney noted that many residents of West Virginia's eastern panhandle have moved there from Maryland.
While Mooney will be favored against Casey, the competitive and costly Republican primary means the Democrat will start the general election with more money to spend. Before coasting through his primary, Casey reported having more than $626,000 cash on hand, compared with Mooney's $213,000.