UPDATE 9/17/13 @ 10:55 a.m.
BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) -- West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant has entered the U.S. Senate race.
The Democrat announced her candidacy in front of about 100 supporters at the Tamarack Conference Center in Beckley on Tuesday.
She's seeking the seat of retiring Democratic U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller.
Tennant quickly broke ranks with her party, saying she disagrees with President Barack Obama's policies on coal. She says she'll push for a new partnership between the coal industry and the government. Among other things, she wants the government to promote coal exports through its trade policies.
"Throughout my time, I have never seen West Virginia’s voters recruit a candidate to enter a race as strongly as they have Secretary of State Natalie Tennant," Larry Puccio, Chairman of the Democratic Party of West Virginia said. "The polls show her in a strong position, but you don't need polls to know that people all over West Virginia want Natalie Tennant as their next U.S. Senator."
Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito announced last fall she'll seek the Republican nomination. Tennant told supporters Capito is part of the reason Congress is in gridlock.
"As the Chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party confirmed, Harry Reid and the liberal D.C. Democrats handpicked Natlie Tennant to be their nominee. It is no wonder they picked West Virginia's biggest supporter of Obamacare, the War on Coal and President Obama's entire extreme agenda," Chris Hansen, campaign manager for Capito said.
Tennant is currently serving her second, four-year term as the state's top elections official.
Tennant confirmed her plans to The Associated Press Monday, a day ahead of planned announcements in Beckley, Charleston and Morgantown.
Her candidacy sets up the possibility of a high-profile battle with popular seven-term Republican U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito. Capito announced her intentions to run before Rockefeller announced he wouldn't seek a sixth term.
If each candidate wins her respective primary, West Virginia voters could elect a woman senator for the first time.
Tennant's announcement was anticipated. Last week the National Republican Senatorial Committee issued a statement calling her a "cookie-cutter liberal."
In an email to supporters Monday night, state Democratic Party Chair Larry Puccio called Tennant "the people's candidate."
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