Conservative Groups Rain on Capito's Senate Parade

Local groups urge conservatives in Washington to stay out of the Senate race in West Virginia.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., celebrates winning re-election to West Virginia's Second Congressional District Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008 in Charleston, W.Va.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito celebrates winning re-election to West Virginia's Second Congressional District in 2008 in Charleston, W.Va.

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West Virginia Rep. Shelley Moore Capito announced this week that she is throwing her hat in the ring for U.S. Senate in 2014, and a handful of conservative groups in Washington have said they won't back the Republican.

The Senate Conservative Fund, South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint's Super PAC, immediately criticized Capito for what it called her "pro-government, pro-Washington voting record."

[2010: West Virginia GOP Shelley Moore Capito Won't Seek Byrd's Seat]

"Congresswoman Capito is not someone we can endorse because her spending record in the House is too liberal," said Senate Conservative Fund Executive Director Matt Hoskins. "If Republicans in West Virginia want to save their country, they need to find another candidate with the courage say 'no' to more spending and debt."

Hoskins criticized Capito for voting to raise the debt ceiling and supporting a $1 trillion spending bill. Club for Growth, another conservative PAC, released a statement echoing the sentiment that Capito wasn't right for the job.

"Her candidacy will undoubtedly be cheered by the GOP establishment, and dire warnings will be issued against any 'divisive' primary challenges, lest other candidates hurt Capito's chances of winning," said Chris Chocola, Club for Growth's president. "The problem is that Congresswoman Capito's record looks a whole lot like the establishment candidates who lost this year."

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Both Club for Growth and the Senate Conservative Fund hinted that they may support a primary challenger against Capito.

But congressional experts warn that conservative groups need to let Senate primaries take their course or risk a wide range of losses in 2014 like the ones they suffered this year.

The reaction to Capito's announcement is further evidence that the Republican party is split on what went wrong in November when it lost a slew of red-state Senate races in Indiana, Montana, North Dakota, and Missouri. Some in the party say they lost because the GOP candidates were too extreme, while others say the Republican candidates were not conservative enough.

In Indiana, groups such as Club for Growth spent nearly $1 million in the state's Republican party primary to defeat three-decade incumbent Sen. Dick Lugar. Club for Growth threw its support behind Tea Party candidate Richard Mourdock early, but he proved to be a liability. Right out of the gate, Mourdock gave Indiana's moderate Republicans pause and the infamous rape gaffe guaranteed the Democrats a win.

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And Club for Growth threw thousands behind primary challenger Mark Neumann in the Wisconsin primary, but Neumann attacked eventual GOP nominee Tommy Thompson so viciously that it may have cost Republicans in the end.

While conservative groups in Washington bash the first GOP candidate out of the gate for 2014, Capito is gaining momentum among conservatives in West Virginia.

Republicans in the state view the Senate race as a guarantee for them in 2014 if West Virginia Democrat Sen. Jay Rockefeller decides to retire. Local Republicans in the state have one warning for Washington's conservative groups: Stay out of the primary.

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"We like to take care of our own affairs here in the state. It is important for us to control our own destiny," says Roger Horton, chairman of a Coal Miners for Capito, a coalition of miners who support Capito. "She has always been able to work across party lines to get everything that we needed to try to stop the anti-coal coalitions from taking away our livelihood."

The powerful West Virginia Coal Association has also said it will throw its support behind Capito.

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  • Lauren Fox is a political reporter for U.S. News and World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at lfox@usnews.com.