Tennant taking on Capito

Natalie Tennant’s decision to run for the U.S. Senate may answer an interesting question about West Virginia voters: Are Democrats here upset with President Barack Obama solely because of his anti-coal agenda, or is it the whole package we don’t like?

If it’s the latter, as I suspect is the case, Tennant is in for an old-fashioned clock cleaning in November 2014.

Whatever the verdict, it seems certain Mountain State residents will be better off than with Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who announced earlier this year he will not run for re-election. Even on the critical issues of coal and affordable electricity, Rockefeller has backed Obama almost all the time.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, the Republican who represents the state’s Second Congressional District, made it clear months ago she would run for the Senate seat being vacated by Rockefeller. Although there are other GOP candidates, Capito is a shoo-in for her party’s nomination.

For a long time it seemed Democrats would be unable to convince any big name in their party to run against Capito. But last week Tennant, in her second term as West Virginia secretary of state, declared she will seek her party’s nomination to the Senate.

Here’s the bottom line: Tennant and Capito both will win their primaries. That will set up a general election between Republican Capito, who opposes nearly all of Obama’s policies, and Democrat Tennant, who favors nearly all of them.

There’s an exception, and Tennant is counting on it being decisive. Like Capito, she has been a critic of the administration’s anti-coal policies.

Tennant is aware Obama is unpopular in West Virginia – but she’s banking on dislike among Democrats being limited to his energy policies.

In essence, Tennant wants to take a page from Sen. Joe Manchin’s playbook. He was elected to fill the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s seat in 2010, after discontent with Obama became widespread in West Virginia. Yet Manchin campaigned and has served as an anti-Obama Democrat.

Trouble is, Manchin has opposed the president on several fronts. To date, Tennant’s disagreement seems limited solely to coal issues.

On other questions, such as health care and the economy, Tennant seems to agree with her party’s president. She has been an unabashed booster for “Obamacare,” formally known as the Affordable Care Act.

She has not been above giving it credit it isn’t due. During her campaign kick-off in Beckley, she had this to say, according to the Associated Press: “When we talk about coal miners who have worked in these coal mines and made the economy of West Virginia, they get their black lung benefits because of the Affordable Care Act.”

No, they don’t. Federal black lung benefits were provided way back in the 1970s. Barack Obama was just 12 years old when the law was enacted. It has nothing to do with Obamacare.

Many West Virginians, both Democrats and Republicans, are leery of the law.

A Gallup poll in April indicated 48 percent of responding small business owners thought Obamacare would be bad for business.

Forty-one percent said they had held off hiring new employees because of concern about the law.

And speaking of new employees, Obama’s “stimulus” program hasn’t done much for the state’s economy, totally aside from his assault on coal. West Virginia’s unemployment rate this July was 6.2 percent – four-tenths of one percent higher than when Obama took office.

Another weakness for Tennant is labor unions. While Capito is conservative on most issues, she has friends in organized labor because of her stances on some questions.

And many Democrats in her home Second District like her. In 2006, before dislike for Obama was a factor, she won re-election to the House by defeating popular Democrat Mike Callaghan.

Tennant will run a strong campaign. Rest assured of that. But she may well have misjudged both the depth and breadth of dislike for Obama in West Virginia.