CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Shelley Moore Capito has become the first West Virginia Republican to be reelected to the U.S. Senate in more than a century.
Capito on Tuesday defeated progressive Democrat Paula Jean Swearengin, a coal miner’s daughter who lacked statewide political experience.
Republicans made major gains when Capito won the 2014 Senate race, capturing all the state’s U.S. House seats for the first time since 1921. Capito is West Virginia’s first female U.S. senator and the first Republican since 1959.
“A little bit different tonight than six years ago, but it’s no less special for me and our family and for the state,” Capito said in her acceptance speech.
Swearengin refused to concede the race late Tuesday night.
“No matter what happens, the movement continues. But right now, our campaign is not ready to say anything until every single voter is heard,” Swearengin said. “Our team is still working diligently looking at all the data and waiting for all the numbers to come in. But we are not going to say anything until every vote is counted. Because that is democracy.”
After President Donald Trump won 68% of the state vote in 2016, Capito continued to ride his popularity in West Virginia this year.
The previous time the state reelected a Republican to the Senate was in 1907.
“West Virginians share values and we don’t leave anyone behind,” Capito said. “So tonight I pledge to West Virginia and to all of you the same passion and commitment to not leave West Virginia without a voice, to always pay my most utmost attention.”
Capito campaigned on her Senate record of securing federal funding for opioid-related treatment in a state that by far leads the nation in the rate of drug overdose deaths. She also cited efforts to improve the economy, expand internet broadband access, build better roads and help residents and small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.
“As long as COVID lasts, I will work to ease the anxiety, to help those who are hurting so much,” she said. “I will not rest until every house and every student is connected to the greatest invention of this century - the internet.”
She also advocated for improving health outcomes, including lowering the price of prescription drugs, helping victims of childhood cancers, supporting families of Alzheimer’s patients and research toward finding a cure for the degenerative disease. Both of her parents died from the disease. Her father is the late three-term Republican Gov. Arch A. Moore Jr.
Retiree Lillian Cobb of Cross Lanes said she has voted for Republican Shelley Moore Capito since she entered politics two decades ago. Capito also served two terms in the state House of Delegates and later seven terms in the U.S. House.
“She is good people,” Cobb said.
Sandra Shaffer, a custodial worker in Charleston, West Virginia, said she voted for Capito because “she has a heart of gold and she would do whatever she can to help the poor people.”
Federal campaign finance records showed Capito raised about $5.2 million, or nearly four times as much as Swearengin.
Swearengin tried to project Capito as out of touch with the challenges facing state residents. Swearengin said too many people in West Virginia are poor, sick and fighting for better health care.
Swearengin focused her campaign on pushing for renewable energy technology and supporting a government-run health care system known as “Medicare for All.”
Swearengin was featured in the 2019 Netflix documentary “Knock Down the House.” It was the second political race for Swearengin, who received 30% of the vote in the 2018 primary against Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin.
It marked the second time that Capito faced another woman for a Senate seat. Capito defeated then-Secretary of State Natalie Tennant in 2014.
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