From Martinsburg, West Virginia
With two weeks to go until Election Day, both parties are locked in a major struggle in West Virginia, as the fate of two U.S. House races here in the Mountain State could be an indicator of whether Republicans can successfully add to their numbers in Congress or if Democrats can limit their losses in 2014.
On the ground, it’s obvious that both parties are working hard at every level to turn out the vote – early voting begins here on Wednesday – and that push was evident as I dropped by field offices in two counties on a gorgeous October day.
Inside Democratic Party headquarters in Berkeley County, a few people were working the phones, calling up their party’s voters in a bid to secure their votes on Election Day.
“I’ve been working for 12 hours a day since August,” one worker told me in the Democratic Party office, smiling as a guy in a camouflage hat and hunting jacket came in to get a few yard signs for the Democrat running for U.S. Senate, Natalie Tennant.
“Things are going good,” Tennant’s field coordinator told me in between phone calls.
As she went back to her phone cubicle, it was then that I noticed the word “TATTOO” in faded letters on the back wall of the Democratic Party storefront.
Like I saw last week Fayetteville, Arkansas, the local parties were located close to each other – in fact, the Democrats were at 115 South Queen Street in Martinsburg, while the Republicans were a block over at 115 North Queen Street – their office space also plastered with campaign signs for November.
Asked about the local race for Congress, the GOP workers were optimistic about the chances of Alex Mooney, a former Republican Party official in Maryland who recently moved into West Virginia.
“They’re trying to use that against him,” one of the GOP workers acknowledged, in talking about the efforts of Democrats on behalf of Nick Casey, whose blue and white signs were a constant feature along the roads of this district, which stretches from the West Virginia Panhandle all the way to the Ohio River in the west.
While their phones were quiet on a Monday morning, the GOP field reps were a confident bunch about their chances in November, as Republicans hope to win a U.S. Senate seat, take all three U.S. House seats and even win control of the state House for the first time since 1928.
Rahall remains chief West Virginia target for GOP
The race that’s getting the most attention in the Mountain State is the re-election bid of Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), who has been a Republican target for years.
In his district that covers basically the southern third of this state, Rahall is one of the few more conservative Democrats left in the Congress – and the ad money is pouring into this region in the fight for his seat.
National Democrats have plunked down over $300,000 in recent weeks to buy ads on Rahall’s behalf, while Republicans are pouring in cash as well.
It’s resulted in Charleston, West Virginia’s TV market being one of the busiest for political ad purchases, like this from Rahall’s opponent, Republican Evan Jenkins.
Jenkins has had an interesting personal political road – a West Virginia native, he went to college at the University of Florida, started off his political life as a Republican, switched to the Democratic Party in 1993 and then switched back to the GOP in 2013 to make this run for the Congress.
While Jenkins has attacked Rahall for his time in Congress, Rahall uses that experience to buttress his arguments on why he should stay in the U.S. House.
The Rahall-Jenkins battle is considered a toss up by almost every major political group that watches U.S. House races closely.
These type of races are sometimes difficult to read, simply because there are certain candidates in each party who seem to draw a lot of attention from the other party – but win every two years.
Democrats argue that same result will be repeated in November – but if the GOP can take this seat, it might mean larger than anticipated gains for Republicans nationally.
Just to the north in West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District, the ads are also flying where Alex Mooney is trying to hold on to the seat of Rep. Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV), who is the favorite in this state for U.S. Senate.
“Alex Mooney is a career politician from Maryland,” said an ad from Mooney’s Democratic Party challenger Nick Casey.
“I’ve always put West Virginia first,” Casey says in the ad.
Casey and Mooney live in opposite ends of this district, which would take almost five hours to drive across; it makes figuring out the advantage all the more difficult.
Political experts in Washington, D.C. see Mooney as a very slight favorite – if the Republicans can’t hold on to this seat, it would certainly represent an important win for Democrats, as they try to limit their losses in November.
“We’ve been doing a big push to get our Republican base out early,” said Michael Ashley, the GOP executive committee chair of Jefferson County.
While I was talking with Ashley at his party’s HQ on Monday afternoon, his cell phone rang – it was the woman known as “La La” – the mother of congressional candidate Alex Mooney.
“She’s one of Alex’s secret weapons,” said a smiling Anne Dungan, a former GOP exec in Jefferson County who was working alongside Ashley when I dropped by.
Down the road at Democratic Party HQ in Jefferson County, the workers there were emphasizing the same thing.
“I just want to remind you that early voting starts on Wednesday,” one young woman said over the phone to a potential voter.
Asked to talk about their work, an earnest young man gave me a disapproving look.
“We can’t talk to the press,” he said.
I tried to crack him, but he was sticking to his orders. So, I took a few photos and headed out the door.
Two weeks to Election Day.