GOP May Pick Up House Seat in Democrat-Dominated West Virginia

By Chris Slemp | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

Charleston, W.Va. ( - Republican leaders hope a victory by George W. Bush Tuesday will help them maintain a majority in the U.S. House and Senate. One of the pivotal congressional races is in West Virginia, where political analysts believe the Second Congressional District could go Republican for the first time in 20 years.

Hoping to take the open seat in Congress is current House of Delegates member, Republican Shelley Moore Capito who, if elected, will have staged one of the most unlikely come-from-behind wins in history. Capito, who faces Democrat Jim Humphreys, was down by more than 30 points earlier in the campaign. Humphreys is a wealthy Charleston, West Virginia attorney and former state senator.

The seat is open because current Representative Bob Wise (D) decided to give up the seat he has held for 18 years, in order to try to oust incumbent Republican Governor Cecil Underwood. Wise and Underwood are locked in a tight race.

Despite a meager childhood, Humphreys went on to earn his fortune and reputation as a lawyer shepherding high dollar asbestos lawsuit settlements through the West Virginia court system.

While her financial pockets may not run as deep as Humphreys', Capito's political connections may more than make up for it. Her father, Arch Moore, was a three-term governor in the state. His career in politics ended with federal corruption convictions and a stint in federal prison.

Local polls a month ago showed Capito trailing Humphreys by as many as 34 points. GOP operatives in the state said even the National Republican Congressional Committee, which had once been confident that Capito would win, pulled its support, opting to shift money and resources to other House races around the country.

However, Capito persisted in campaigning throughout the district and running more television and radio ads highlighting what the campaign considers to be Humphrey's policy "inconsistencies." Capito began staging a fierce comeback and as of Monday, actually holds a seven point lead over Humphreys.

The resurgence of Capito's campaign has lured the National Republican Committee back into town.

"We're moving in the polls, we're up, we've got the momentum." Capito told reporters during a weekend rally. "People are ready to get out and vote."

Capito is being accused of running a negative campaign by showing ads that accuse Humphreys of not paying his property taxes and of improperly firing an employee.

Campaign finance reports released by the Humphreys campaign show he has spent nearly six million dollars of his own money to combat the charges that he failed to pay his property taxes while voting in the state legislature to raise the taxes of residents.

He has also tried to fight off accusations of firing a law office employee and rifling through her medical records. The employee threatened legal action against Humphreys, the issue was later settled out of court, but the public relations damage contributed to Humphreys' loss in 1994 of his state senate seat.

Capito's accusations have hurt Humphreys in the current campaign in light of the fact that the protection of medical records is an issue Humphreys has included in his stump speeches.

Over the weekend, Capito received another major boost with a second visit to the district by Arizona Senator John McCain. McCain used the opportunity to slam Humphreys' spending habits.

"We've got to send a message. House and Senate seats and public office are not for sale in the United States of America," said McCain to the roaring approval of the crowd.

Speaking from a store parking lot in Charleston, McCain stressed the importance of the Capito race.

"We now have the race for the presidency of the United States too close to call, the Senate too close to call, and the House too close to call. My friends, this is one of about 15 House races which will determine if the Democrats or the Republicans are in control in Congress."

If Capito wins, she will have done so in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one, and, according to GOP leaders, Capito was outspent by Humphreys, six-to-one.