MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant told The Associated Press Monday she'll seek Democrat Jay Rockefeller's seat in the U.S. Senate, setting up the possibility of a high-profile battle with a popular seven-term congresswoman who also wants the job.
Tennant confirmed her plans to The AP hours before she was set to make the announcement at Tamarack in Beckley, though she declined to comment further until the event. Additional announcements were planned Tuesday and Wednesday in various parts of the state.
Republican U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito announced last fall that she would run, too, well before Rockefeller announced in January that he would not seek a sixth term.
Rockefeller has served five terms, winning each one by a comfortable margin. But his retirement at age 75 puts a seat held by Democrats since 1958 in jeopardy. Capito is popular in her home state and won a seventh term in the House last fall with about 70 percent of her district's vote.
If Tennant and Capito each win their respective party primaries next spring, West Virginia could elect a woman senator for the first time.
Tennant's announcement came as no surprise. Even the National Republican Senatorial Committee anticipated her run.
Last week, it issued a statement calling her a "cookie-cutter liberal" and declaring her positions on coal, energy, abortion, gun rights, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Affordable Care Act "far too liberal" for West Virginia.
Monday night, state Democratic Party Chair Larry Puccio called Tennant "the people's candidate" while attacking Capito for votes on minimum wage and coal safety regulations.
"Throughout my time, I have yet to see West Virginia voters recruit a candidate to enter a race as strongly as they have Secretary of State Natalie Tennant," he said in an emailed statement.
Associated Press News Editor Dena Potter contributed from Richmond, Va.