Senate Conservative Group Makes a Play for a House Seat in West Virginia

The Senate Conservatives Fund has backed Alex Mooney and several other House candidates this year. Tuesday’s West Virginia primary is its first test.

National Journal
Jack Fitzpatrick
May 12, 2014, 3:34 p.m.

There’s no clear-cut fa­vor­ite in the crowded, sev­en-way GOP primary for Rep. Shel­ley Moore Capito’s House seat in West Vir­gin­ia, but if Alex Mooney can win the nom­in­a­tion, he won’t be the only one claim­ing vic­tory.

The Re­pub­lic­an is run­ning with the back­ing of the Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund, one of the most ag­gress­ively anti­es­tab­lish­ment out­side groups in the GOP uni­verse — and one that mostly has kept to Sen­ate races. But SCF, whose back­ing of anti-in­cum­bent chal­lengers has earned the enmity of oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans, en­dorsed can­did­ates in a half-dozen House races this elec­tion to help put more like-minded con­ser­vat­ives in Con­gress — and cre­ate a bench of re­cruits for high­er of­fice in later years.

West Vir­gin­ia’s primary on Tues­day is the first time this year that one of those can­did­ates will face voters.

Mooney, a former state sen­at­or and state party chair­man in Mary­land, has en­joyed a fun­drais­ing ad­vant­age over his Re­pub­lic­an op­pon­ents for Capito’s seat, thanks in part to SCF’s and oth­er out­side groups’ at­ten­tion to a race that has not re­ceived much oth­er out­side scru­tiny. (Capito is leav­ing her seat to run for the Sen­ate.) Al­most all of Mooney’s dis­closed fun­drais­ing has come from out of state, and he spent over $400,000 be­fore the primary, com­pared with a little over a quarter-mil­lion dol­lars each from phar­macist Ken Reed and former George W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial Char­lotte Lane. Less than 5 per­cent of Mooney’s item­ized dona­tions came from West Vir­gin­ia.

Mooney has also at­trac­ted to the dis­trict an ad­di­tion­al $161,000 in out­side spend­ing, not only from SCF but from groups like the Free­dom Fron­ti­er Ac­tion Fund, Cit­izens United, and Cath­olic­Vote.org, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics. He was also en­dorsed by the Tea Party Ex­press. SCF spent more than $63,000 sup­port­ing Mooney, with most of that go­ing in­to a 60-second ra­dio ad say­ing, “It’s not enough to elect Re­pub­lic­ans to Con­gress. We need to elect con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­ans.”

The only out­side ef­fort on Lane’s be­half, from a su­per PAC de­voted to elect­ing more Re­pub­lic­an wo­men, amoun­ted to less than one-tenth of the pro-Mooney spend­ing.

Like oth­er can­did­ates backed by SCF, Mooney has spent the race play­ing up his con­ser­vat­ive cre­den­tials, cri­ti­ciz­ing Lane for her past po­s­i­tions on abor­tion and tout­ing his sup­port for gun rights and for homeschool­ing chil­dren. Cam­paign man­ager Nick Clem­ens, in an email, called Mooney “the only ma­jor con­ser­vat­ive can­did­ate” in the race. But he has had to handle claims that he’s a car­pet­bag­ger look­ing for a con­gres­sion­al seat: Mooney con­sidered run­ning for Con­gress in Mary­land in 2012, briefly set­ting up an ex­plor­at­ory com­mit­tee.

The sev­en-way race is “un­pre­dict­able,” Clem­ens said, and the Char­le­ston Daily Mail re­por­ted it’s un­likely any can­did­ate gets more than 10,000 votes. But the low ex­pect­a­tions be­lie big stakes as the Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund and oth­er groups make an un­usu­al bet on an open House seat.

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