Who Will Be West Virginia’s First Female Senator?

Two women will likely square off for West Virginia’s Senate seat

Women have made substantial progress over the past 20 years in securing seats in the U.S. Senate. However, progress has been wildly uneven across the country. California, Washington and New Hampshire have all-female Senate representation, and Maine did as well until Olympia Snowe’s recent retirement. But other states have never elected a women to the upper house. One of the holdouts is my home state of West Virginia, but that will almost certainly change in 2014.

On the Republican side, Congresswoman Shelly Moore Capito is well-placed to capture the nomination, though she may have to overcome a Tea Party challenger. On the Democratic side, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant is the early favorite.

Based on my amateur reporting around the state capitol the past few days, this should be a race to watch. Capito has two advantages. First, her father was the governor and West Virginians tend to look warmly on political dynasties (Randolphs, Manchins, Moores etc.). Second, West Virginia is becoming more friendly to Republicans: The GOP holds more seats in the State House of Delegates than they have since 1928. On the other hand, Tennant has run for statewide office and won, whereas this will be Capito’s first effort to appeal to voters outside of her district.

Both women are widely regarded as intelligent and personable. A Tennant-Capito matchup could thus be a (gasp) civil campaign that focuses on real issues. In any case, the end result will be West Virginia sending a woman to the U.S. Senate for the first time in its 150-year history.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

9 thoughts on “Who Will Be West Virginia’s First Female Senator?”

  1. I only need you, for just a moment, to consider how many male candidates you’ve described (as a compliment) as ‘intelligent and personable’.

    1. Why?

      This is a bit baffling. Do you think that “intelligent and personable” is actually a slur, and Keith is showing his misogynistic side? Or that those are stereotypically female qualities, and Keith is showing his unconscious adoption of gender stereotypes? Or that those are stereotypically un-female qualities, and Keith is showing his unconscious surprise at female candidates contradicting his stereotypes? Or that “intelligent and personable” really is a compliment, and Keith is showing his misandristic side by (allegedly) failing to recognize any male politicians as “intelligent and personable”?

      Honestly, I can’t figure out what your objection is.

      1. Look back at the original comment:

        I only need you, for just a moment, to consider how many male candidates you’ve described (as a compliment) as ‘intelligent and personable’.

        Notice that the responses from you and Anonymous are in no way responsive. You haven’t considered, even for a moment, if a male candidate would be complimented in this fashion. Absent actually considering the issue, of course you’re going to have trouble making sense out of the comment.

        Personally, I think WeedScientist’s intuition here is correct - that it would feel odd to compliment a pair of male candidates in this fashion. If that’s right, what does that mean? An interesting question.

        Now maybe you object to WeedScientist’s implied criticism of Professor Humphreys. It made me feel a bit defensive, too. Professor H’s error (if that’s what it was) is something I could easily have done.

        Still, I think it’s interesting to reflect on the different ways that we talk about different people, and middle-aged white guys like me need to get over our defensiveness on the topic. Calling someone “clean and articulate” is hardly a slur, but I think it did Joe Biden (and all of us) some good to reflect on why he chose that language to describe Obama.

        1. This is a joke, right?

          There is nothing remotely odd about calling a man or woman “intelligent”. In casual conversation I would be more likely to use the shorter equivalent “smart” but I’m sure I’ve described plenty of men and women as “intelligent”. It is a compliment to the individual in question, nothing more.

          The same goes for “personable” though again I’d be more likely to use “friendly” or “likeable” or “pleasant” in casual spoken conversation (“personable” is more something I’d reach for in writing). Like “intelligent”, “personable” is a gender neutral compliment. You can find endless reams of paper devoted to analyzing the extent to which a given male candidate is or is not “personable”. Having picked Al Gore as an example, it takes merely a couple of seconds with google to bring up pages and pages of links like these:

          * “Al Gore versus John Kerry: […] by a small margin, Gore is more personable. They’re similar politically, though”

          * “In the course of ‘An Inconvenient Truth,’ a strikingly relaxed and personable Al Gore tells us that he comes from a family of slow learners […]”

          * “If Al Gore had been as passionate and personable on the 2000 campaign trail as he is in the global-warming documentary…”

          * “I got to sit down with a small group of others on the question team […] to meet with Gore, who was personable, polite…”

          and so on, ad nauseam. Seriously,

          There is absolutely nothing wrong, strange, or unusual about using either of those words, alone or in combination, to describe a man or woman. Keith doesn’t need my or anyone else’s “defense” for employing these in a description of the likely WV senate candidates.

        2. Here is just a handful of examples of the exact phrase “intelligent and personable” being used to describe male candidates:

          Rob Portman

          Mitt Romney

          Barack Obama

          Both Al Gore and George Bush (a two-fer!)

          If one cared to do so, one could compile hundreds of other examples without too much effort.

          There’s no shortage of actual, genuine sexism out there to fight against. Keith’s innocuous, polite, and wholly accurate compliments to the two senate candidates are not even remotely on that list.

          1. Been out of town and missed this thread until now but thank you Ned for responding to the facile and self-righteous comment by Weed. Accusing people casually of sexism cheapens the damage done by all the stories that focus on women politicians’ hair, makeup and clothing.

    2. Honestly, “intelligent” and “personable” are near the top of my list of important attributes for a legislator. I can really only think of a few more I would add: “modest” (or, if you prefer, unassuming) and “honest”.

  2. If I am not mistaken, Ms. Tennant was the first female Mountaineer. My recollection was that it caused something of a furor.

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