By Mannix Porterfield
Democrat Natalie Tennant launched her bid Tuesday for the U.S. Senate in Beckley, and the two-term secretary of state wasted no time firing broadsides at her likely opponent next year — veteran 2nd District Rep. Shelley Moore Capito.
“Tennant for Senate,” about 60 enthusiastic supporters chanted when the onetime television anchor stepped to the podium in a red suit at the Tamarack convention center.
For several weeks, her name and photo appeared almost daily on the social network Facebook in “draft Tennant for Senate” postings, and her aides finally, the night before her announcement, confirmed she was headed in that direction.
Tennant vowed to represent West Virginia’s values and sought to distance herself from the political hardliners that have engaged in a constant gridlock, taking exception with the Obama administration on coal policies and calling for tweaks in the Affordable Health Care Act.
“Now is the time for a new generation to say ‘no’ to the old Washington ways of doing business and turn to new leaders to say ‘yes’ to the West Virginia way of getting things done,” she said, while sharing the stage with her husband, state Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, and labor leaders.
“In Washington, we need to cut wasteful spending. I know how to do it by cutting programs that aren’t working and making sure that those that are run more efficiently.”
Capito announced her intentions last November, and two months later, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who won the seat in 1984 and never lost a re-election effort, disclosed that he is retiring.
“Just say ‘No’ to Capito,” read one hand-painted sign waved at Tennant’s announcement.
Tennant mentioned her twice, reminding supporters the Republican congresswoman supported privatization of Society Security and for turning Medicare into a voucher program.
“A voucher program that limits medical care for seniors like my dad and the thousands of other seniors across our state,” she said.
Coal remains a hot potato in this upcoming race, one that is apt to see megabucks poured in on both sides, and Tennant let it be known she opposes President Obama’s regulatory efforts.
“I will fight any Republican or any Democrat, including President Barack Obama, who tries to take away and hurt our energy jobs, whether they are coal, natural gas, wind or water,” the secretary said.
Afterward, Tennant said she is willing to meet Capito in a debate any time and voiced support for Sen. Joe Manchin’s proposed enhanced background checks for firearms purchases.
Republicans were swift to react to Tennant’s announcement, with Capito’s campaign chairman, Chris Hansen, labeling her the handpicked candidate of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, an avowed enemy of coal.
“It is no wonder they picked West Virginia’s biggest supporter of Obamacare, the war on coal and President Obama’s entire extreme agenda,” Hansen said.
West Virginia Republican Chairman Conrad Lucas suggested Tennant was the Washington liberals’ candidate of last resort, one they settled on “after months of scrapping the bottom of the barrel dangerously thin.”
“Tennant has championed the war on coal, defended the Environmental Protection Agency and disenfranchised voters with a radical stance against voter ID laws,” he said.
Tennant vowed to focus on Main Street, helping small businesses and making sure that “Wall Street never again robs the working families of this country of their future.”
“I’m not afraid of taking on corruption anywhere I find it, regardless of party or position,” the secretary of state said.
“I have always followed a path of independence. In Washington, corrupt officials get a slap on the hand and sometimes lobbyists pay for dinners and trips in order to convince lawmakers to vote their way. It’s the Washington way and it’s the wrong way.”
As for the war on coal, Tennant said “railing” against the Obama policies is inadequate, “as satisfying as it may be,” which is why she pledged to seek a new partnership between coal and government that recognizes the industry’s value in the global economy.
Her speech was interrupted often, and one of the more thunderous outbursts in an audience sprinkled with labor figures came when she called for “a new covenant” that obligates operators to keep promises for health care benefits and pensions — a thinly-veiled reference to the controversy with Patriot Coal miners.
Tennant imparted another shot at Capito, saying she has been part of the problem the past 13 years — “a Congress that is full of obstructionists, full of gridlock and full of failed ideas.”
“We can’t have someone who always stands in our way and says no to ideas, says no to progress, says no to the people of this state, offering nothing in return,” she said.
Both Tennant and Capito have primary hurdles to clear before they could meet next November for all the marbles.
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., who momentarily considered a run for the Senate months ago, said he decided to seek re-election to the 3rd District since he now ranks eighth in seniority among the 435 members of the House.
“And I’m the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee,” he said, before the Tennant rally opened.
“Some day, the Democrats will regain control of the House, which I then would be chairman of that committee. I feel the position I’m in the House better serves the interests of West Virginia, than going to be No. 100 out of 100 in the other body.”
In remarks at Tennant’s announcement, Rahall took a swipe at Capito, saying, “It’s important that nobody be anointed to any public office, much less than the U.S. Senate.”
Afterward, Tennant said she is willing to meet Capito in a debate, any time and in any locale, but doesn’t feel it is incumbent of her to issue the challenge.
A former Mountaineer mascot who once toted a muzzleloader, Tennant expressed support for Manchin’s proposed enhanced background checks in firearms purchases.
“Erik and I have a daughter, and we want to make sure she lives in a safe community,” she said.
“I understand that people who are legally and eligible to own a gun should be able to own a gun, so I think that’s important. I think that anybody, any mother, any father, will want to make sure that those who can have guns had had the proper checks and are eligible and legal to have hem. I see how Manchin, his leadership, has been very strong in making sure that the guns don’t get in the wrong hands of criminals, of terrorists or anyone who has been deemed mentally incompetent.”
Tennant said she chose Beckley to make her announcement because the city is “especially important” and helps demonstrate the race is by the people.
As emcee of the event, Maj. Gen. Allen Tackett, the former adjutant of the West Virginia National Guard, fired up the crowd, saying, “We’re going to send a message to the future, a message to Washington, that’s going to be heard even today and all across the state, that West Virginia comes first.”
Asked if she’d run again for governor if unsuccessful next year, Tennant said, “I don’t plan to fail. That’s not even an option for me right now.”
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