BECKLEY, W.Va. — West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant kicked off her bid for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday by distancing herself from the Obama administration’s policies on coal, hoping to blunt one of the Republican Party’s main lines of attack in a state that’s heavily dependent on the coal industry.
The Democrat an-nounced her candidacy in front of about 100 supporters at the Tamarack Conference Center in Beckley, which she called the center of coal country. She’s seeking the seat of retiring Democratic U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who won five terms by comfortable margins and endorsed her on Tuesday.
But the state has been growing slightly more Republican in recent years and the GOP plans to make Democrats’ policies on energy a central issue in their efforts to take the seat.
Republican U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito announced last fall that she would run, too, and became a favorite of the GOP establishment. However, some conservatives complained about her votes for financial industry bailouts, and former state Sen. Patrick McGeehan has announced plans to challenge her.
If Tennant and Capito win their party primaries next spring, West Virginia could elect a woman senator for the first time.