CHARLESTON - It can pay to enter a political race early.
Campaign finance reports show that Republican U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito had millions of dollars in her U.S. Senate campaign account months before a Democrat had even stepped forward to join the race.
Last week, Democratic West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant announced her candidacy to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller. West Virginia has sent only Democrats to the Senate for decades, but it has gone Republican in recent presidential elections, and the party had struggled to quickly identify a candidate it could coalesce around after Rockefeller announced his retirement plans in January.
Tennant's announcement means Democrats can start their fundraising for the race in earnest, and they'll have plenty of catching up to do after Capito announced her candidacy in November.
The most recent Federal Election Commission report available shows Capito had more than $2.8 million in cash on hand at the end of June, and had already spent more than $400,000 on the race by then. That includes money spent on campaign staff salaries, travel, polling and media consulting, among other things.
"Congresswoman Capito's biggest advantage in this race is that voters know she will stand up for West Virginia values in the United States Senate. We know there will be millions of dollars spent by out-of-state special interest groups to try and defeat Shelley. That is why so many West Virginian's have contributed both volunteer time and money to help her win in 2014," Capito campaign manager Chris Hansen said in an email to The Associated Press.
Between January and the end of June, Capito's campaign raised more than $1.1 million from individual contributions. But Capito also had plenty of contributions from out-of-state political action committees. Of the 230 contributions made by PACs to Capito, only three were based in West Virginia. However, that figure doesn't include West Virginia-based companies or organizations that have their PACs headquartered in the Washington, D.C. area, such as coal company Alpha Natural Resources, whose Washington-based PAC has donated $5,000 to Capito.
Fundraising and expenditure reports for the third quarter that ends in September aren't due until Oct. 15, and Hansen declined to provide an estimate about what the current quarter's financial figures will look like.
Already evident, however, is that the Capito campaign has started spending some money on advertising. In the days following Tennant's announcement, the first result by several major search engines for her name delivered a paid-for advertisement with a link to Capito's campaign website, with the title "Stop Natalie Tennant."
While Tennant's website just launched, there's little information on it other than an email submission form and a link to a page accepting donations. Still, Lou Ann Johnson, a senior adviser on the Tennant campaign, said the Tennant campaign wouldn't sit around idle when it comes to fundraising.
"We are fully committed to running an aggressive, well-funded campaign addressing the issues that are important to West Virginians and focusing on Rep. Capito's record of putting Washington interests ahead of West Virginia's," Johnson said in an emailed statement to the Associated Press. "The campaign has been energized and overwhelmed with the number of people wanting to volunteer and donate. We are aggressively setting up fundraisers across the state with the help of West Virginians who want a Senator in Washington who will always put our state first."