‘Blue Dog’ Steven Wendelin enters race for West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District

By Matthew Young, RealWV

In a race where the perceived frontrunner has already raised nearly $400,000, what would it say about the Mountain State’s political system if a candidate could win election to the U.S. House of Representatives after raising a mere $30,000 to campaign with? Steven Wendelin, a Democratic challenger for West Virginia’s 2nd (Northern) Congressional District, is looking to answer that question.

“It’s insane,” Wendelin said, while speaking with RealWV on Monday. “What kind of promises are you making, and what kind of influence are those people having that are donating that much money? And why do you even need that much money?”

Wendelin said that the purchasing of influence by large corporations and out-of-state special interests – particularly in the form of dark and soft money contributions – has a direct correlation to many of the problems currently faced by West Virginians. 

“Until we get a hold on that, nothing is going to change,” Wendelin added. “I don’t call it the most important thing, I call it the first thing – that’s the first thing we need to go after. If you’re beholden to somebody, now you’re compromising, and you may not vote the way you believe or in the best interests of your constituents.”

“Are we running for office, or are we buying office?” Wendelin rhetorically asked. “When you raise that much money, it’s not okay.”

Wendelin has no intentions of purchasing television advertising, which is one of a typical political candidate’s largest expenditures. Wendelin, however, said he is not a typical political candidate.

“What I would really like is for people to go out to their garage, get a sheet of plywood, spray paint my name on it, and put it in their front yard,” Wendelin noted. “But if you don’t want to do that or you can’t do that, then send me ten bucks.”

Born and raised in San Mateo, California, Wendelin enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of 18, and served for nearly four decades before retiring in August of this year with the rank of Commander. Wendelin, along with his family, chose Hardy County, West Virginia as their forever home in 2018. Now a resident of a Donald Trump-supporting state currently controlled by a Republican supermajority, and as a Democrat who spent his childhood in California, Wendelin knows that earning the trust of the voters will be no small task. 

“The hardest easy question I ever get asked is ‘So, where are you from?’” Wendelin said. “I spent 39 years in the Navy – I’ve been from wherever the Navy told me to go. This was the first opportunity I’ve had as an adult to really choose where I want to live. And I’ll be honest; I first considered West Virginia because the fine folks here voted, in 2017, to make military retirement tax free. So I started looking for places, and fell in love with the natural beauty of it.”

“For anyone who is asking, ‘Why the hell should I vote for a carpetbagger?’ I would tell them that I’m a West Virginian by choice, not by chance. I choose to live here,” Wendelin continued. “I have immersed myself into the community, I care about it, and this is where I plan to spend the rest of my life.”

“I’m a lot of things,” Wendelin added. “I’m a father, I’m a retired Naval Officer, I’m a combat veteran. I’ve got a little bit of common sense, I’ve got a pretty decent education, and most importantly, I’m pissed off. This is not what I dedicated my entire adult life to. What’s going on in Congress is horrible, and it’s on both sides.”

A lifelong Democrat, Wendelin describes himself as a “rabid moderate,” noting that, “My version of moderate is that I will work with anybody.” A supporter of neither former President Donald Trump, nor former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Wendelin is a call back to the “Blue Dog” Democrats of West Virginia’s political past. 

“The wonderful thing about the military is whether you like somebody or not, it doesn’t matter,” Wendelin said. “You still have to work together, and you have to get the mission done – period. Because of that, you learn to work with anybody, and work toward that common goal.”

“I firmly believe that 80% of us, regardless of your political affiliation, can agree on about 80% of the issues,” Wendelin added. “The other 20% of the issues, that 80% can probably come up with compromises. That leaves the 10% on the extreme ends of the left and the right. Right now, they have hold of the steering wheel. We need to wrestle the steering wheel away from the 10% of the left and the right, and the adults need to take control of the car and get some work done.”

In addition to teaching him the necessary negotiation skills, Wendelin believes his military service has provided him with other experiences which make him the best candidate to represent West Virginia’s interests in Washington.

“I tell people that I’m not qualified for the county, or for the State Legislature – at all,” Wendelin explained. “What I am qualified for is Congress, because I spent 39 years learning how the federal budget is supposed to work, and how it doesn’t work. I also learned about how much waste there is in the DOD (Department of Defense). If we can become more fiscally responsible there, we can take care of a whole lot of business. But we can’t do that because we can’t even elect a (House) Speaker, and both parties are at fault.”

“Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution lays out Congress’ job pretty clearly, and that is to fiscally run the country,” Wendelin added. “1997 was the last time a budget was passed on time without a continuing resolution, and 2001 was the last time we got a balanced budget. That’s insane. You and I aren’t allowed to spend more money than we make. The federal government needs to be held to the same standard. I honestly believe that all this culture-war crap is just smoke and mirrors to keep our eyes off the fact that these guys aren’t getting it done.”

“And yet we keep electing them,” Wendelin added.

Wendelin said he plans to run a very public-facing campaign, and meet voters where they are, including places where most would not expect a Democrat to be.

“I would love to get invited to some Republican [functions],” Wendelin said. “Come and take a swing at me – I’m a big boy, I can take it. But let’s have a conversation. You can poke at me – that’s fine, that’s fair. But the price of admission to poke at me is that we’re going to have a conversation.”

To learn more about Steven Wendelin, and his campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives, visit wendelinforcongress.com

“The other reason I’m running is because the hyper-partisanship is tearing the country apart,” Wendelin noted. “And the real enemies – guys like (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and (Chinese President) Xi (Jinping) are laughing at us. This isn’t a game, and it’s not entertainment anymore.”

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