Shelley Moore Capito Doesn’t Worry Much About the Tea Party

And unlike most Republicans in Washington, the West Virginia Senate hopeful isn’t obsessed with being labeled “conservative,” either.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito
National Journal
Shane Goldmacher
Add to Briefcase
Shane Goldmacher
Jan. 23, 2014, 12:19 p.m.

Shel­ley Moore Capito just doesn’t sound like most oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans run­ning for Sen­ate.

As she filed pa­per­work Thursday in her bid to be­come the first Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­or from West Vir­gin­ia since the Eis­en­hower ad­min­is­tra­tion, the six-term con­gress­wo­man made plain that she won’t be ca­ter­ing to the tea party. She’s tack­ing to­ward the polit­ic­al middle.

In an in­ter­view with Na­tion­al Journ­al, Capito didn’t cast her­self as con­ser­vat­ive — she didn’t so much as ut­ter the word — but in­stead said she is a “deal-maker” and “real­ist” in the mold of oth­er mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­an wo­men in the up­per cham­ber. Among those she named as mod­els was Sen. Lisa Murkowski — a wo­man who lost her party’s nom­in­a­tion to a tea-party chal­lenger in 2010, and had to wage a write-in cam­paign to keep her seat.

Capito even spoke about some of the be­ne­fits of Obama­care — a heresy for most Re­pub­lic­ans. The Medi­caid ex­pan­sion has provided in­sur­ance for tens of thou­sands of the poorest West Vir­gini­ans, and Capito said “cov­er­age is great and hav­ing more people covered is ex­cel­lent,” though she re­mains con­cerned about its long-term fisc­al im­pact.

Capito has the free­dom to speak out be­cause she has no ser­i­ous op­pon­ent for the GOP nom­in­a­tion. While con­ser­vat­ive act­iv­ists, most not­ably the Club for Growth, made some early noise about chal­len­ging her from the right, she’s now on a glide path through the primary.

“We can’t keep get­ting in cir­cu­lar fir­ing squads,” Capito said Thursday. “I think that’s use­less.”

Her lack of a primary foe could pay off, as Capito can start mov­ing to the polit­ic­al cen­ter right away in a state that most be­lieve is a must-win if Re­pub­lic­ans are to re­take con­trol of the Sen­ate in 2014.

Capito’s likely Demo­crat­ic op­pon­ent, West Vir­gin­ia Sec­ret­ary of State Nat­alie Ten­nant, is set to file her pa­per­work on Fri­day. And Demo­crats are de­term­ined not to let Capito define her­self as any­thing but a creature of Wash­ing­ton and the un­pop­u­lar House Re­pub­lic­an ma­jor­ity. Justin Barasky, a spokes­man for the Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, said that Capito has “con­sist­ently sup­por­ted the reck­less and ir­re­spons­ible Wash­ing­ton spe­cial in­terest agenda” that led to last fall’s shut­down and the sus­pen­sion of long-term un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits this month.

Capito said she ad­mired wo­men GOP sen­at­ors who bridged the par­tis­an di­vide in 2013, cit­ing Murkowski and New Hamp­shire’s Kelly Ayotte in par­tic­u­lar.

“The wo­men in the Sen­ate and how they’re broker­ing agree­ments and reach­ing across party lines… as a fel­low wo­man, I look at it from afar and I think I know where they are,” Capito said. “They’ve just reached the break­ing point, like you do with your fam­ily when your kids are fight­ing — when you sort of look at them and say, ‘That’s enough. We’re stop­ping this right now. We’re go­ing to find a solu­tion.’ I think that’s a real cred­it to them in the Sen­ate, and I’d like to be a part of that.”

Capito’s most not­able com­ments came on the health law, which she re­ferred to as the “Af­ford­able Care Act” even as most Re­pub­lic­ans re­fuse to call it any­thing but Obama­care.

“I’m in fa­vor of re­peal­ing and re­pla­cing, but the real­ist in me says that’s not go­ing to hap­pen,” Capito said. “The pres­id­ent’s not go­ing to sign a re­peal meas­ure.” So she spoke about try­ing to find ways to keep the up­wards of 80,000 West Vir­gin­ia res­id­ents who now have ac­cess to Medi­caid on the health in­sur­ance rolls.

“Hope­fully, when I get to the Sen­ate and we be­gin to make changes in the Af­ford­able Care Act, that we will be able to find a way through tax cred­its and sub­sidies to keep folks in that in­sured area. And then, as they move up and we grow the eco­nomy — be­cause of bet­ter policies we’re put­ting for­ward — once they move up they’re able to move out of that cat­egory, maybe in a more gradu­al fash­ion than one day you’re on, one day you’re off,” she said.

Capito ad­ded that spiral­ing Medi­caid costs for states were a ma­jor con­cern. “This is an is­sue of — while cov­er­age is great and hav­ing more people covered is ex­cel­lent — however, the state doesn’t have to be­gin to pay for this,” she said. “Keep in mind that our state, for the first time ever, is dip­ping in­to their rainy-day fund to meet the ob­lig­a­tions of Medi­caid as it ex­ists today — without the ex­pan­sion.”

Any­thing short of a re­lent­less fo­cus on re­peal is sure to an­ger the polit­ic­al Right. But Capito, without a ser­i­ous primary op­pon­ent, sounds at peace with that. “We’re a party that should and does have a much broad­er tent than maybe some fa­cets of our party would find ac­cept­able,” she said.

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