West Virginia, least Hispanic state in U.S., could elect its first Latino to Congress

West Virginia could soon see its first ever Latino congressional representative.

His name is Alex Mooney and his mother is from Cuba.

If he were to win this race – which at the moment is viewed as a toss-up – Mooney, a conservative Republican running against Nick Casey, a former chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, would make history in a state that has the distinction of having the smallest percentage of Latinos in the entire nation.

Latinos make up just 1.2 percent – or slightly more than 22,268 – of the Eastern Panhandle state's population.

Mooney, 43, has ruffled feathers with his candidacy for West Virginia’s 2d congressional district, which leans Republican.

Many accuse the Cuban-American of having made West Virginia home solely to run for office.

For most of his life, until recently, Mooney lived in Maryland, where he was Republican Party chairman. Before that his political career included serving as a Maryland state senator for 12 years, being a congressional aide and a delegate to the Republican National Convention.

Several news outlets have frowned upon Mooney’s brief West Virginian presence, in effect depicting him as opportunistic.

"He has the background to run for Congress. Except all of that [political experience] happened in other states,” said the West Virginia Gazette.

The current Maryland Republican Party head, Joe Cluster, told the Gazette: “He’s wanted to run for Congress for a while. He saw an opportunity in West Virginia, and he took advantage.”

Mooney and Casey, who is 61, are vying to succeed U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican who is running for a U.S. Senate seat.

Casey’s campaign has not minced words about Mooney, hammering away at his not-too-long-ago Maryland address.

“It’s long past time that Alex Mooney tells the truth about himself to the voters of the second district,” said Casey campaign manager Derek Scarbro in a statement on the Democrat’s website.

“Mooney has yet to identify himself as a former member of the Maryland State Senate in his advertising, a tactic that’s clearly designed to mislead voters into thinking he’s a West Virginian.”

Mooney has plenty of defenders.

Fellow Republicans in his former home state dismiss the suggestion that Mooney’s move to West Virginia was self-serving. They say his move was simply one driven by a desire to be in a state that seemed to nurture his values more than Maryland did.

“He’s very conservative, he’s extremely pro-business,” said Republican state Sen. Nancy Jacobs, according to the Gazette. “I think he realized that there’s not a whole lot left that we Republicans can do in Maryland, unless there’s a massive change in who’s in office.”

Mooney has not given interviews to the media.

His campaign manager, Nick Clemens, has said that Mooney’s decision to relocate were both personal and professional.

“Alex and his wife moved to West Virginia because they wanted to raise their two children in a state that shares their values,” the Gazette quoted Nick Clemens, Mooney’s campaign manager, as saying in an email. “In Congress, Alex will fight to protect West Virginia’s conservative values and coal jobs and make sure West Virginia continues to be the kind of place to which other families want to move.”

Mooney has assailed Casey for supporting policies and regulations that he says hurt the coal industry and imperil jobs.

David Wasserman, with the Cook Political Report, was quoted in the state’s MetroNews as saying that it’s anyone’s guess at this point who will win the 2nd congressional seat. He said that Mooney could be hurt by the recent Maryland residence.

“These races usually break towards the party that has an advantage in the district,” Wasserman said.

“The trouble is, in West Virginia, it’s really difficult to identify which party has a fundamental advantage because there are still more voters that consider themselves Democrats at the local level and, yet, voters are overwhelmingly disapproving of President Obama.”

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