By Mannix Porterfield
Now that Jay Rockefeller has become a lame-duck senator by his own choice, a scramble could be on to succeed him as one of West Virginia’s two U.S. senators.
And one choice that came to mind within hours after Rockefeller delivered his announcement was a fellow Democratic member of Congress, longtime Rep. Nick Rahall.
Reached at his Washington office, the 3rd District congressman acknowledged that he is interested. An aide said he is considering a run for the higher office.
“Jay’s decision has made it incumbent upon me to recalibrate all my decisions in terms of what is in the best interests of the people of West Virginia,” Rahall said in a brief statement.
Already, one Republican contender is in the race — Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, who jumped in Nov. 26 at the West Virginia Capitol, fully two years ahead of the contest. Her explanation was that an early announcement would give any and all rivals ample time to lay their political plans.
In response to Rockefeller’s sudden announcement, Capito made no allusion to her own effort to succeed him in the 2014 election.
“Sen. Rockefeller has served our state with distinction for over 40 years,” she said. “Jay has always been a true gentleman and
hard-working statesman, while working hard on the challenges that face our state and country. While we disagree on many policy issues, the No. 1 concern for both of us has always been the welfare of West Virginians. I consider him a personal friend and thank him for his service.”
Rick Snuffer said he welcomed Rockefeller’s decision to retire.
“The general public wants to see lifelong politicians move along,” the Beckley home-builder said.
A one-term Republican member of the House of Delegates and former pastor, Snuffer took his second stab last November at unseating Rockefeller, and this time the race was much tighter.
“I’m very excited about Shelley getting the opportunity to represent us as a U.S. senator and keep moving our state in the right direction,” Snuffer said.
As for taking a third turn at grabbing the 3rd District in Congress, he acknowledged this is a consideration but said his foremost obligation is to his family.
“Certainly, I am considering another run, and whether the congressman chooses to lose to Shelley statewide or stay in the 3rd will not affect my decision one way or another,” he said.
Rahall first won the post in 1976 and has never failed in a re-election bid, twice beating Snuffer, but in recent years, the 3rd District has taken a decided turn to the right.
Mitt Romney captured 65 percent of the presidential vote there last year, contrasted to 55 percent for John McCain four years earlier. In Raleigh County, the commission is now dominated by Republicans, and four of the five House members in the district are in the GOP. Last fall, Boone County elected its first Republican delegate in history.
Republican leaders quickly seized on Rockefeller’s announcement, viewing it as another big opportunity for them.
“West Virginians are ready to send Nick Rahall packing,” the National Republican Congressional Committee said in a statement by spokeswoman Katie Prill. “At every turn, Rahall has supported President Obama’s anti-coal, anti-job policies over West Virginia families. So why wouldn’t he take a long shot for the Senate? It will keep him busy before he inevitably joins the unemployment line when he is retired in 2014 for constantly voting against West Virginia.”
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