Down in the cellar of the U.S. Capitol almost four decades ago, right on the spot where the Father of this Country was intended to be buried, three men met far removed from any eavesdroppers, huddled to discuss what turned out to be a monumental decision in the political history of West Virginia.
That decision was this — popular Gov. Arch Moore wouldn’t take on Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., in 1976 as he considered, but would wait two years and go for the Senate with Sen. Jennings Randolph, D-W.Va., agreeing to bow out and give him his blessings.
As it turned out, however, Randolph had a change of heart and decided to keep his seat, but Moore ran against him anyway, losing by a handful of votes, the former Republican chief executive recalled Thursday.
“There was a time in my political life that I had to make a decision,” Moore, now 87, said.
“Whether or not to test Sen. Byrd in his re-election or subsequently with Sen. Randolph. I was asked to attend a meeting with Byrd and Randolph. And Sen. Randolph asked if I would not face Byrd but would wait until two years, at which time he would leave the Senate and endorse me.”
For reasons which he didn’t elaborate on, Moore said the trio met in the burial site at the bottom of the Capitol, the very spot where the remains of President George Washington originally were to have been interred. Heeding the first president’s wishes, however, Washington was buried at his beloved Mount Vernon.
“Here we had two senators from West Virginia and the present governor, sitting down on George Washington’s crypt,” Moore said.
“And I must be frank to say that Byrd didn’t do much of the talking.”
This was in 1976, the year Byrd launched a short-lived campaign for the presidency, but settled for re-election to the Senate. Two years later, Moore challenged Randolph and lost by less than 5,000 votes out of nearly 500,000 cast.
In 1980, Moore ran again for governor, losing to incumbent Jay Rockefeller. He was elected to an unprecedented third term in 1984.
Suppose he had ignored Randolph’s pleadings in the Capitol basement and had taken on Byrd in the 1976 election?
“At that time, I think I was in pretty good shape,” Moore said.
Moore planned to attend today’s hour-long ceremony honoring Byrd as the longest serving senator in U.S. history, a seat he held 51 years. He died Sunday at age 92, following a series of health setbacks.
“Sen. Byrd and I knew probably knew each other longer than anybody in the political field,” Moore said in a telephone interview.
“I followed him into the state Legislature. And then he moved on to the House of Representatives in Washington, and four years later, I ended up in Washington. He then went on to the Senate and I came back and sought the people’s approval for the governorship.”
Moore said the late senator was “very dedicated” to the Senate and their paths rarely crossed while he oversaw the affairs of state back in Washington.
“I didn’t talk with the senator much during my governorships,” Moore said.
“Meaning, did I seek special treatment one way or another for our state? The answer was no. But we got everything we wanted. As a matter of fact, we built more roads in the United States, the interstate system, than any other state, which even prompted (then-California) Gov. (Ronald) Reagan to call me on the phone and ask how in the world I did it.
“But I did not interface on a special relationship with Sen. Byrd. I ran the governorship as the people looked for it to be run.”
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