U.S. Rep. Shelley Capito will have every reason to be smiling broadly when she speaks in Wheeling next week. She has a tight lock on the race to succeed Jay Rockefeller in the Senate - and the outlook will get better and better for her as the spring and summer wear on.
Capito, the Republican who has served West Virginia's Second Congressional District in the House of Representatives, will be speaking at noon Tuesday at River City Ale Works in Wheeling. Her visit is part of the West Liberty University Economics Club's annual speaker series.
In a nutshell, here's why Capito will win the Senate election in November: West Virginia voters see her as a staunch opponent of President Barack Obama's health care and energy policies. They will elect her because they trust her, far more than her Democrat opponent, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, to rein in the president.
- In late February, the Rasmussen Poll asked likely voters in West Virginia which candidate they favored. Capito led Tennant, 49 percent to 35 percent. In politics, a 14-point lead is the equivalent of being Sitting Bull before the Battle of Little Big Horn.
- Capito's lead has grown. Last summer, a couple of other polls gave her leads of about five points over Tennant.
- Twelve percent of those responding to Rasmussen said they were undecided. If all of them go for Tennant, Capito still wins.
- Democrats traditionally can rely on younger voters. Not this year in West Virginia. The evidence is in signups for Obamacare insurance.
According to the government's most recent report, only 18 percent of West Virginians who have enrolled are in the 18-34 age group. That is the lowest rate (tied with Oregon) in the nation.
Obama may have pulled the wool over younger voters' eyes in most of the country - but not here.
- Tennant - who, the last I heard, still hadn't said that she would have voted against Obamacare had she been in Congress when it was enacted - may try to use the issue against Capito.
Part of Obamacare is expansion of the Medicaid program. At last report, about 95,000 Mountain State residents had signed up for Medicaid under that provision. Tennant may use scare tactics and warn that if Capito is elected, Medicaid will go away for those people.
That's highly unlikely. For starters, Capito herself has said she would not "second-guess the decision" to expand Medicaid.
- As I noted several weeks ago, the preponderance of registered Democrat voters might, all other things being equal, work to Tennant's advantage. But all other things aren't equal, thanks to Obama. Many Democrats - and many labor union members - are furious about Obamacare and the White House's war on coal.
They will have no trouble voting for Capito, who has a reputation as a moderate. On occasion, she has voted for measures backed by unions - and she also has voted against some conservative initiatives.
- Will that hurt Capito among so-called "tea party" conservatives? It has been speculated some of them may not vote in November, because they are not comfortable with Capito. I wouldn't count on that, if I were Tennant. Hard-line conservatives in West Virginia will recognize a victory by Tennant helps the archenemy - and will go to the polls and vote for Capito.
It will be interesting to watch the polls later this year. Again, unless I miss my guess, Capito's lead will grow.
We won't have to wait long for more evidence in the race, however.
Candidates are due to file campaign finance reports by April 4. Both the amounts Capito and Tennant have raised - and where the money is coming from - will tell us more about how the race is trending.
Is there any hope for Tennant? Well, yes - in the faint possibility that Capito supporters, because of her gigantic lead, become overconfident and don't bother to go to the polls in November.
Look, then, for Capito to stress a get-out-the-vote campaign.
Myer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.