WHEELING, W.Va. — Patricia VanGilder Levenson, who is running for Congress in the West Virginia First Congressional District, has a tough fight ahead of her.
Not only must she face five other candidates to win the Republican nomination, including a former state senator and a one-time candidate for governor, she may then be faced with trying to unseat a 22-year incumbent in November.
But Levenson, who is making her first run for public office, isn’t put off by the challenge.
“If I was put off by a tough road, I wouldn’t be a Jew,” she said.
Levenson is running to unseat U.S. Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-Fairmont). If she is nominated and goes on to win the general election, she could become only the second current Jewish member of Congress, the other being U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia.
Levenson, who dislikes using labels to describe people, be they religious, political or gender, nevertheless said that would be a significant achievement.
“I think it’s important that the Jewish nation is represented,” she said. “When it comes down to it, there’s very little difference between me and the person next door.”
Married to Wheeling businessman Robert Levenson, Patricia preferred not to describe herself as a Conservative or Tea Party Republican or any other label.
“There are all kinds of labels that can be used to separate us,” she said.
“I started out as a Christian; I converted to Judaism,” she added. “Am I a different person? No, I am not a different person, I am me.”
Nevertheless, many of Levenson’s positions are more right wing than left.
For one, she is a defender of the state’s coal industry and a critic of environmental efforts to limit it.
“There seems to be full frontal attack on the coal industry,” she said. “That will not only destroy West Virginia but cripple our nation. Our economy depends on coal right now and I think that’s a bad move for our country.”
Though Levenson now lives out of state part of the year, she predicted that would have no impact on her ability to serve West Virginia and her district in particular.
“I don’t think geography has as much to do with it as experience,” she said, noting that her family history in the state goes back to 1731.
“My family has lived here for generations; this is my home.”
Levenson is a member of Temple Shalom and a past district president of the then-National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods.
Levenson will face former State Sen. Sarah Minear and former gubernatorial candidate David McKinley in the Republican primary, in addition to three other candidates. For the Democrats, Mollohan faces a challenge from state Sen. Michael Oliverio of Morgantown.
If there are debates prior to the primaries, Levenson hopes they include candidates from both parties instead of separate debates for Republicans and Democrats.
“It would be a much more lively, interesting conversation,” she said.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)