Shelley Moore Capito '75

Capitalizing on an independent streak.
Writer: 
June 1, 2007
Capito: celebrating with husband, Charlie Capito, on election night, November 2006

Capito: celebrating with husband, Charlie Capito, on election night, November 2006. Craig Cunningham / Charleston Daily Mail

Shelley Moore Capito likes to joke that her major in zoology from Duke prepared her well for her career. "Because now I work in the biggest zoo in America—the U.S. Congress," quips the four-term Congresswoman from West Virginia.

Capito, who represents her state's Second District in the House of Representatives, is the only Republican and the only woman in the West Virginia Congressional delegation. She was one of the few Republican incumbents to hold on to her seat in the November 2006 election. The daughter of former West Virginia Governor Arch A. Moore Jr., she readily acknowledges that she may seek higher office someday.

Yet, as a young woman, Capito never imagined herself entering politics. She took premed courses at Duke and earned a master's degree in higher-education counseling at the University of Virginia. Soon after, she married, had three children (Charles L. Capito III '03, Arch M. Capito '05, and Shelley E. Capito '08), and spent the next fifteen years at home, rearing them.

It was not until 1996 that Capito decided to run for public office. "I felt that I really wanted to try to make a difference in my state and try to make a better environment for our children to grow up in," she says. By a slim margin, Capito won a seat in West Virginia's House of Delegates.

As a member of the State House, she found herself drawn to health issues such as finding help for those without health insurance and obesity prevention. "Those early seeds I planted at Duke [as a premed student] followed me," she says.

Then in 2000 a seat opened in the House of Representatives, and Capito began an uphill campaign as a Republican in a traditionally Democratic district. Her message was simple: She was a family person and a West Virginian who wanted to help. As she met with voters, she tried to present herself as honest, plainspoken, and a good listener. It was a tight race in which she "ran like crazy," she says, and ultimately beat her opponent.

Less than a year after she was elected, Capito was sitting in her office when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were struck by airplanes hijacked by terrorists. "I could see the smoke from the Pentagon," she recalls. "Everything changed in my perspective. I realized these are tremendously historic times and what we are facing is so uncertain."

Capito re-dedicated herself to issues that she cares about, such as creating economic opportunities and affordable, high-quality health care. She also traveled to Afghanistan and Iraq to meet with U.S. troops.

She says she began working hard to address the public's growing cynicism about elected officials and the partisan atmosphere in Congress by demonstrating to voters that she was listening to them, and not just voting along party lines. "People want to see an independent streak," she says.

Ever since her re-election, Capito says, she has made it a priority to be accessible to residents in her district, because she believes that the better voters know her, the more they will trust her to make decisions for their families and their future.

"I am still doing the grocery shopping, going to movies downtown, and doing the same stuff I did before," Capito says. "I don't try to make myself anything more than I am."