MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — An Elkins artist who switched parties to run and a state legislator who says only "godly leaders, committed Christians and believers" can change Congress are mounting rare Republican primary challenges to U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito.
Both acknowledge they have their work cut out for them as they try to derail Capito's bid for nomination to a seventh term May 8. But both believe they have a shot at overcoming Capito's name recognition, popularity in the 2nd District and deep campaign pockets.
Jonathan Miller, a 28-year-old health insurance consultant from Inwood, said God told him to run. If challenging West Virginia's most powerful Republican was his idea, he said, he probably wouldn't do it now.
"Why would I take such a risk?" said Miller, who's wrapping up a third term in the House of Delegates and surrendering his seat to compete. "If it was my own decision, I would have waited for an easier path. But His will will be done, not mine.
"He has called me to be a godly leader in politics."
Miller said he'd set a new example on Capitol Hill by taking a 50 percent pay cut, refusing taxpayer-funded health insurance, giving up stocks and mutual funds while in office, and forgoing campaign contributions when Congress is in session.
"The key is reforming our politicians," he said, "because if we don't reform our politicians, we won't have change."
Artist and campground operator Michael Davis, meanwhile, is compelled to run by deep concern for the health of the environment and the survival of what he calls an "embarrassingly dysfunctional" democracy that does more to support the wealthy than the working class.
Davis said he's the only "true Republican" in the race, despite his party switch last fall. He quotes Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ron Paul in laying out ideas that range from cutting military spending and raising taxes on the wealthy to decriminalizing marijuana and treating drug abuse as a health care issue.
"I feel like I'm really part of the American party," said Davis, a 66-year-old former teacher. "I'm 100 percent for the 100 percent, and it seems like both parties are just concerned with getting 50 percent plus one."
After 12 years in the House, Capito said she remains as "eager and energized" to serve as ever, and argued that her experience and willingness to work across party lines are needed for the job ahead.
Capito said she'll keep pushing for fiscal responsibility and debt reduction as she tackles other lingering problems, from dismantling new federal health care laws to overhauling "absolutely unsustainable" Medicaid and Medicare programs.
Government must operate "more like we do around our kitchen tables," she said. "If you don't have enough money, don't spend it. Quit running up the nation's credit cards."
Capito, 58, bristles at claims she's out of touch with impoverished and working-class West Virginians, arguing that if social net programs aren't fixed soon, they'll cease to exist. She said she's even supported some expansions, such as the Medicaid program for children and the prescription drug program for seniors.
Capito also vowed to keep battling the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over its refusal to consider the impact on jobs when it weighs new regulations.
Her challengers contend voters are fed up with the status quo.
Davis accused Capito of double-talk when it comes to money in politics and bipartisan cooperation, and he derided her for creating "a false dichotomy" by pitting the environment against jobs.
"We need both. And we can have both," Davis said. "We're a smart people, we're a creative people, and we're a rich society in more ways than monetary. We're rich in our creativity and ability to cooperate and not see the other side as the enemy."
On his website, though, Davis offers views that could cost him the support of the party's most conservative voters.
He blames the Tea Party for bringing the legislative process "to a screeching halt." He defends President Barack Obama against those who question his citizenship, calling him a good person who "has the best interests of our country at heart." And Davis says former President George W. Bush took the country "to the brink of ruin," launched two "senseless" wars and allowed big banks to "run wild and ruin our economy."
Both parties, Davis argues, are unable to face the core problem: Government favors corporations and the wealthy.
So why not run as a third-party candidate?
Voters, he said, won't elect one.
"Not today," Davis said, "and not in West Virginia."
Miller also risks alienating voters — perhaps at the other end of the Republican spectrum — by putting his faith front and center. He's pledged to apply the same formula to every vote: It must comport with what his constituents want, what the Constitution allows and what the word of God commands.
As an example, Miller pointed to a bill that would have let people borrow more money than their homes are worth. The Legislature had constitutional authority to act, he said. His constituents supported it.
"But I don't believe God supports it," Miller says. "God's word is very clear about how you borrow money, that it should be very limited and that you should think very carefully about what you're doing. And so that is a clear prohibition in Scripture."
Miller, who has not been outspoken about his faith in past races, said he rededicated his life to God in 2009 and contemplated leaving politics when he saw "too much worshipping of the office."
"My faith is the driving part of who I am now, and the most important part of me in public service," he said.
"There will be people offended by that," he said. "But I would rather offend people for my belief in Christ and my lord and savior than for any other issue."