At the end of last week, West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) became the first 2014 election cycle senator to announce that he will not seek re-election. The move is not a surprise, particularly in light of his age (77, at the time of the next election), the attacks he’s launched on his home state coal industry, previously Democratic West Virginia now swinging decidedly toward Republicans, and looking at a tough new opponent in the guise of Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV-2) who announced her own senatorial bid earlier this month.
Rockefeller will leave the Senate after he completes his fifth term. Prior to serving in Washington, the senator was a two-term governor, secretary of state, and member of the House of Delegates. In all, when his current term ends at the beginning of 2015, he will have served 48 of his last 52 years in public office.
With the senator exiting, all political attention turns toward Capito. The open West Virginia seat will now become the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s top conversion target. Striving to avoid the bumbling mistakes that some GOP candidates made during the 2012 cycle that cost them seats with an early political prognosis as favorable as West Virginia 2014, Capito is not the type of politician prone to egregious mishap.
Originally elected to the House in 2000 in what was a heavily Democratic seat anchored in the capital city of Charleston, Capito overcame the huge amount of personal money her opponent spent in order to lock down the 2nd District. She repeated the feat in a re-match two years later. Since that time, the seat has become more favorable and her re-election percentages have grown. Though not a Tea Party conservative who therefore might be susceptible to drawing primary opposition from the right, Rep. Capito has proven to have both strong candidate and fundraising abilities. She will clearly begin the general election in the favorite’s role.
Though the state is turning away from Democrats, the party still has a bevy of strong statewide candidates. Former Sen. Carte Goodwin is a potential entry. After the death of Sen. Robert Byrd, Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin appointed Goodwin to serve the interim period between the former’s death and the latter winning the seat in a special election. Speculation that Goodwin would eventually run for statewide office has always percolated, but he has yet to pull the trigger.
Other potential candidates are former West Virginia Democratic Party chairman Mike Callaghan, state House Speaker Rick Thompson, and possibly even 19-term Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV-3). Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, a loser in the recent race for governor after Manchin was elected to the Senate, is another potential senatorial candidate. So are state Auditor Glen Gainer and Treasurer John Perdue.
Turning to the open House seat, virtually all of the aforementioned Democratic candidates, with the obvious exception of Rahall, could run also run for the 2nd District because all have a connection to the Charleston area. Regardless of how the field of candidates shakes out, it is a certainty that the Democrats will utilize their political bench and ensure that they have quality candidates in both the Senate and 2nd District races.
On the Republican side, most talk centers around newly elected Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who just unseated incumbent Democrat Darrell McGraw this past November. Though the Republicans are on the ascendancy, their bench is still relatively weak. Morrisey, for example, is the GOP’s only statewide office holder. Just winning for the first time in November, the new attorney general may think better of immediately jumping into a congressional race. Without him, the Democrats will almost assuredly have the stronger candidate, which will make this contest quite an interesting one.
That being said, with two of their four contested 2014 federal races now open, West Virginia is already a new political battleground.