By Mannix Porterfield
Only two months beyond the last general election, a pollster already is looking ahead to the 2014 congressional race in the 3rd District of West Virginia, and sees Rick Snuffer an early favorite in a hypothetical Republican primary with Bluefield businessman Bill Cole.
Neither man is committed to running, although Snuffer, who lost the Nov. 6 election to veteran Democratic Nick Rahall, strongly hinted Monday at taking a third stab for the seat.
At this stage, Snuffer enjoys a 51 percent lead among GOP voters, while the Bluefield auto dealer would get 13 percent, according to the report by Harper Polling. For now, the other 36 percent are undecided.
“Bill has become a very good friend and I can’t imagine us running against each other to begin with,” Snuffer said.
“But I am encouraged and humbled that Republican primary voters seem to have that confidence in me.”
Snuffer said he intends to make an announcement about the 3rd District “in the near future,” at the urging of his supporters, but declined to say exactly when.
“We got closer to defeating Rahall than any Republican candidate in over 20 years, in what turned out to be a bad year for so many Republican congressional candidates,” said Snuffer, who served one term in the West Virginia House of Delegates.
First elected in 1976 and re-elected in every cycle since, Rahall has said he might consider running for the U.S. Senate next year, since Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., recently announced his retirement. The only announced candidate to date is Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican who represents the 2nd District.
“My name has been put out there a number of times, not anything that I’m doing or asking for,” Cole said when asked about the 3rd District.
“I’m flattered that people are considering me for that.”
Cole won the 6th District seat in the State Senate in the November general election by defeating incumbent Democrat Mark Wills in Mercer County. An attorney in Princeton and former House member, Wills had captured the seat in a special election.
Cole said he had been asked to get involved in the political process in 2010 by running for Congress, but simply wasn’t ready at that time to leave his business “because it’s certainly a full-time job in Washington.”
“But I did want to get involved in the process where I could make a difference,” he said.
“I felt like the state Senate was my opportunity to do that and that’s where I went. Now, all of a sudden, people are putting me up as being the guy to run in the 3rd and I’ve yet to sit through the first session in Charleston. My focus is completely on the state Senate seat that I won.”
Cole owns Cole Automotive Group, based in Bluefield, a dealership in Honda, Nissan, Subaru and Kia, with a branch in Ashland, Ky., which sells Honda and Nissan. The senator also is engaged in a manufacturing venture in Tennessee with an operating partner.
“That gives me a great perspective on how different states conduct business,” he added.
Snuffer sustained a second defeat last November at the hands of Rahall but suggested a third attempt could be the charm.
“The thought of taking him on again in a year where things aren’t stacked in his favor is very intriguing,” the Beckley home builder said.
“Unlike last year, when we had only a few months to get ready, we would have almost two years to build a grassroots network and raise the money necessary to explain to voters that voting for Nick Rahall again is like voting for President Obama a third time.”
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