Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito has drawn a challenge from the right in the West Virginia Senate race from Pat McGeehan, who says Capito is not conservative enough to represent the state.
McGeehan, a former Air Force officer and former member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, announced his intention to run Tuesday morning.
“Well, I respect Shelley Capito for her years of service in the House of Representatives; however, I just believe that West Virginians deserve a true conservative in this race, someone who’s pro-gun, pro-coal, pro-life, and, most importantly, pro-Constitution,” McGeehan told The Daily Caller in a phone interview.
During her time in Congress, Capito has made a number of votes that “greatly deviated from that path,” McGeehan said.
Capito is considered a strong contender for the seat, but she has drawn fire from some conservative groups for not being a “true conservative,” as McGeehan put it.
When she announced her candidacy in November, the conservative Club for Growth took an immediate swipe at her.
“The problem is that Congresswoman Capito’s record looks a whole lot like the establishment candidates who lost this year,” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola in a statement. “Congresswoman Capito has a long record of support of bailouts, pork and bigger government. She voted to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, for massive expansions of government-run health insurance, giveaways to big labor, and repeatedly voted to continue funding for wasteful earmarks like an Exploratorium in San Francisco and an Aquarium in South Carolina. That’s not the formula for GOP success in U.S. Senate races.”
Senate Conservatives Fund, another conservative group initially aligned with Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint, had a similar reaction.
“Congresswoman Capito is not someone we can endorse because her spending record in the House is too liberal,” said SCF executive director Matt Hoskins.
“If the grassroots in West Virginia recruit a strong, viable challenger, SCF will seriously consider supporting them,” he added.
Both groups were noncommittal about McGeehan on Tuesday.
“We haven’t vetted McGeehan, so I can’t say at this point whether we could support him or not, but we are very interested in finding a strong, conservative candidate to support in this race. Republicans in West Virginia deserve a candidate who shares their values,” Hoskins told TheDC.
“We’re watching the race,” said Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller.
As for McGeehan, he said, “As of today, we have not met with him.”
McGeehan said he was confident he could put up a strong fight against Capito, saying he was “very confident right now that we’ll have the financial resources.”
“I just really believe that West Virginians are yearning for something new that they haven’t heard before … yearning for a candidate that will stick to their principles … and has not spent a lifetime in government growing government and taking away our liberties,” McGeehan added.
Both sides of McGeehan’s family come from West Virginia, but he grew up an “Air Force brat,” moving around with his father, Lt. Col. Mark McGeehan, who was a B-52 pilot. When McGeehan was 14, his father was killed when his B-52 crashed at Fairchild Air Force Base, as McGeehan and his mother stood watching.
“That kind of set the tone for the rest of my life,” McGeehan said, saying he “grew up fast.”
He moved back to West Virginia for high school, and then attended the Air Force Academy. After Sept. 11, he became an intelligence officer and served tours in Afghanistan. He returned and was elected to the House of Delegates. Now, he works as an account director at Frontier Communications.
The Senate seat will be open in 2014 when Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller retires. Republicans see it as a good chance for a pick-up.