HUNTINGTON — The 2020 elections have held a set of challenges for candidates due to the COVID-19 pandemic as social distancing and hunkering down have caused traditional campaigning activities, such as rallies, support events and public demonstrations, to be difficult, if not outright impossible, to host.
The race for one of West Virginia’s two seats in the U.S. Senate has been no different.
Incumbent Shelley Moore Capito has been focused on COVID-19 since the virus began making national headlines. Having devoted a portion of her website to tracking the virus and providing up-to-date information to the public, Capito has been making strides to combat its effects. An example of this can be seen in her cooperation with U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to expand COVID-19 testing with $9.8 million.
Having assumed the office in 2015, Capito has been described as a moderate Republican, with her views often switching between falling in and out of line with overall party views. Though her stance on the subject of abortion has been difficult to pin down, she has garnered endorsements from West Virginians for Life and received a 100% from the National Right to Life Committee. Capito also has shown general support for gun ownership and received an "A" rating with the NRA.
It is this same moderation that is one of the biggest points of criticism from one of her rivals, though.
Running against Capito in the primary election is Allen Whitt, the president of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia who has described himself as a “hardcore, principled conservative” and holds that Capito has simply not done enough for the state.
“The incumbent currently ranks 51st out of 53 Republican senators,” said Whitt. “Once again, we find a category where our state is ranking near the bottom. We need change, and I know I can be that change.”
Whitt has declared himself as championing stances on First and Second Amendment protection, as well as all possible care given toward the unborn.
“All the studies I’ve researched have shown me that there is never a medical reason to kill a fetus,” Whitt says, adding that he believes the federal government has overreached with its response to the coronavirus.
“The government has created a mess,” said Whitt. “We’ve been engaged in mad, panicked spending with things such as these stimulus checks. It’s a temporary solution that will only lead to dependency, and it needs to be stopped.”
Also running as a Republican is Larry Eugene Butcher, a 68-year-old resident of Washington, West Virginia. No information on Butcher’s campaign or contact information was made available to The Herald-Dispatch.
Three Democrats also are running in the primary for a chance at Capito’s seat.
Paula Jean Swearengin is once again campaigning for the position after her loss to Manchin in 2018. Born in Mullens, West Virginia, Swearengin’s platform is described as being based on the people of West Virginia. Swearengin is so devoted to this idea that she has refused sponsors and funding from corporations so that her campaign is supported completely by individuals.
Swearengin lists providing universal health care and ending political corruption as being among her top priorities, with promises to provide stable jobs and improve the overall quality of life of the average citizen also ranking prominently.
Richard Ojeda, a Logan native, retired Army major and former state senator who previously ran for national office several times, including a brief entry into the 2020 presidential race, lists his military service as being inspiration for his conversion into politics.
“When I returned to Logan, I found leaders that were nowhere near as competent as the ones I had served under,” said Ojeda. “I couldn’t stand it, and it made me realize that I had to challenge them.”
Ojeda lists ending Citizens United, legalizing medical cannabis, holding drug companies accountable for the opioid epidemic and bringing new jobs to West Virginia as top priorities should he get into office.
“It is time we elect a leader who knows what it has been like to work and struggle their whole life to office,” he said.
Also running as a Democrat is former mayor of South Charleston, Richie Robb. Robb lists the efforts of former U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller as being major inspirations for his campaign, and said he seeks to emulate their efforts to bring “good jobs to West Virginia.”
“The economy has left West Virginia behind,” said Robb. “I find that our state is often overlooked in favor of others, and it is both depressing and distressing to me. We need to jump-start ourselves.”
Economic stimulation and renewed employment efforts rank among Robb’s top priorities should he get into office, especially following the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of this, Robb is determined to provide medical care and training as well.
“We can always rebuild our economy,” said Robb. “But no matter how hard you try, you cannot bring back and rebuild a life.”
The West Virginia primary election takes place June 9. More information on the candidates for other positions can be found online at www.herald-dispatch.com/elections/.