By Mannix Porterfield
Rep. Nick Rahall notched his 19th straight triumph Tuesday in West Virginia’s 3rd District and promptly interpreted his easy win over Republican challenger Rick Snuffer as a second knockout punch of controversial coal producer Don Blankenship.
“Let’s be perfectly clear,” Rahall declared from his Beckley home after rolling to a decisive victory over Snuffer.
“My opponent’s campaign was financed, produced and directed by Don Blankenship. And there’s no question that outside of Barack Obama, Don Blankenship’s popularity is about as low (in this state).”
Blankenship once was chief executive officer of the former Massey Energy, and headed the firm at the time of the horrific explosion that roared through the Upper Big Branch mine in 2010, leaving 29 miners dead in the Raleigh County complex.
“This is a man that should be atoning for his sins against our coal miners, instead of worrying about Nick Rahall and his political future.”
Blankenship was a major supporter two years ago of former state Supreme Court Justice Spike Maynard, whom Rahall also upended.
“This man should be worried about staying out of a federal pen instead of putting Nick Rahall in his political grave,” the veteran congressman said.
Rahall said Blankenship used his vast resources and used his “minions” to appear in Snuffer attack ads that featured miners upset with President Obama and his Environmental Protection Agency in what many coal authorities and political leaders have termed a “war on coal.”
Snuffer sought to parlay unrest within the mining community in his attempts to link Rahall to the president.
“I’m going to call this for what it was — a Don Blankenship campaign against me again,” Rahall said.
“I think West Virginians are intelligent and fair and can discern for whom they’re voting and know that I represent what they hold dear and what is important to West Virginians. I put West Virginia first, as demonstrated by my record by my numerous votes in opposition to this administration. I just congratulate the fairness of the people of West Virginia.”
Snuffer thanked his supporters, and said it was encouraging that so many voters in the district wanted change.
“I remain confident that the 3rd District will one day get the representation that it deserves in Washington,” he said.
“It may not have happened in this election, but it will happen soon.”
Snuffer said his immediate plans are to return fulltime to his occupation to meet family obligations.
“My prayer is that the rest of the good folks in the district will be able to do the same for their families,” he added.
Unofficially, with all but 26 precincts in, Rahall had 101,795 votes to 86,924 for Snuffer, or a percentage lead of 54 to 46.
The 63-year-old Rahall, once an aide to the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., first was elected in 1976 after longtime Rep. Ken Hechler, also a Democrat, vacated the office for a failed attempt at securing his party’s nomination for governor in the primary, then staged a weak comeback via a write-in campaign.
Rahall prevailed as a plurality winner, grabbing only 46 percent, and the battle with Hechler was re-staged two years later. Rahall won the nomination that year with 56 percent.
In the years following, Rahall successfully put down every Republican foe he faced, his closest brush with defeat coming at the hands of Marianne Brewster, an insurance agent who polled 48 percent of the vote in 1990.
Snuffer, a 51-year-old home builder and one-time pastor, ran against the incumbent in 2004 and lost in the 18-county district that stretches from Greenbrier County to Cabell.
In this year’s second try, the challenger adhered to a gambit adopted by Republican candidates in other races — link the opponent with President Obama given his Environmental Protection Agency’s zealous enforcement of air and water regulations against coal operations.
Unlike other heavyweights in his party, however, who tried to distance themselves from the president, Rahall not only stood by him but endorsed his re-election.
Rahall ran a series of ads attacking Snuffer for taking campaign money from the coal firm that owned a mine in Raleigh County where 29 miners died in a 2009 explosion and accusing the Republican rival of backing budget cuts that would doom seniors dependent on Social Security and Medicare.
Snuffer lost in a 2006 effort to gain the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in a primary race against John Raese but hit political pay dirt four years later by landing a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates.
Rahall touted his 36 years of experience and, in defense of his Obama endorsement, said he often agreed and disagreed with Democratic and Republican presidents. Snuffer, in turn, said Rahall’s clout would be diminished by a Republican-controlled House.
Rahall was endorsed by the state Chamber of Commerce, American Federation of Teachers, the National Rifle Association and United Mine Workers of America.
In Snuffer’s circle were West Virginians for Life, the West Virginia Farm Bureau, and National Federation of Independent Businesses.
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