CHARLESTON - U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore-Capito announced Monday she will seek the Senate seat presently held by Jay Rockefeller in 2014.
Capito, a Republican from Charleston- who also celebrated her 59th birthday Monday - just won re-election to a seventh two-year term in the House on Nov. 6 after receiving nearly 70 percent of the vote over Democratic challenger Howard Stint. House members won't be sworn in until the first day of the 113th Congress, tentatively set for Jan. 3.
Capito announced her Senate candidacy before supporters at the West Virginia State Capitol building in Charleston on Monday. Her early entry into the 2014 campaign comes as members of Congress gather in Washington this week for a lame duck session and work toward finding a solution to the "fiscal cliff" economic problems facing the nation.
"We are experiencing changing leadership in our state, resulting in a greater political balance between parties," she said. "The change will be good for West Virginia. The voters, however, are fatigued. They have grown tired of the constant campaigning and want us to govern.
"I agree that it is time to focus on governing," she continued. "For this reason, I have decided to make my political intentions for 2014 known now so that I can get back to work in Washington and avoid disruptive political speculation. It will also hopefully provide clarity and time for others to make decisions."
She did not immediately return calls seeking additional comment Monday.
A Democrat, the 75-year-old Rockefeller has represented West Virginia in the Senate since 1985. He has not yet indicated whether he will seek re-election to a sixth term in the Senate in 2014.
On Monday, Rockefeller released a statement saying "politics can wait" and noting he would remain focused on working to solve the nation's financial issues.
Robert Rupp, professor of history at West Virginia Wesleyan University, said the 2014 Senate race would be the third contested race for a U.S. Senate seat in West Virginia since Sen. Robert C. Byrd's death in 2010. Rupp added that it didn't surprise him that Capito will seek the Senate seat in 2014.
"She is the most formidable candidate in a generation," he said. "She has had successful campaigns in the 2nd District - and she has never lost a campaign. ... The only question is will Rockefeller declare for a sixth term or wait?"
Rupp noted that presidential second terms typically don't have good results for the party that holds power, and he believes the second term of Barack Obama's presidency could negatively impact the potential re-election campaigns of Democrats such as Rockefeller.
Obama received just 35 percent of the vote in West Virginia in the Nov. 6 election.
U.S. Rep. David B. McKinley, R-Wheeling, indicated he thought it too early for Capito - his GOP colleague - to make a campaign announcement.
"West Virginians endured a long, bitter 2012 election cycle, and with nearly two years to go it's too early to be worrying about the next campaign," he said. "We're focused on serving the people of the 1st District and doing the job they sent me here to do."
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was elected to his first full six-year term in the Senate this month.
"I support Sen. Jay Rockefeller," Manchin said. "Jay has been a good friend, and no one could have been more helpful to me when I came to the Senate than Jay and his staff. Jay is a truly committed public servant who has dedicated his career to improving the lives of hard-working West Virginia families."
Elgine McArdle, chairwoman of the Ohio County Republican Party, said Capito would do a great job as senator.
"Without a doubt, I think she will win," McArdle said. "I know she will have the support of at least the 2nd Congressional District. ... Of course that leaves a void we will have to fill."
West Virginia GOP Chairman Conrad Lucas said Capito's announcement Monday was a "real jolt of energy for the party."
"She wanted to lay it all on the table - no more guessing, and no more questions so if anyone else was interested they were aware of the playing field," he said.
He acknowledged keeping Capito's 2nd District seat will be a priority for state Republicans.
"The 2nd District is Republican-friendly already, and Shelley has represented it well," Lucas said. "Congresswoman Capito is a strong leader. If Sen. Rockefeller decides to run, it will be another opportunity for West Virginians to reject the policies of Barack Obama."