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Rahall, Tennant Have Their Eyes On Rockefeller's Seat Rahall, Tennant Have Their Eyes On Rockefeller's Seat Rahall, Tennant Have Their Eyes On Rockefeller's Seat Rahall, Tennant Have Thei...

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Rahall, Tennant Have Their Eyes On Rockefeller's Seat

photo of Sarah Mimms
January 11, 2013

With Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., deciding not to run for reelection, fellow West Virginia Democrats Rep. Nick Rahall and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant are considering running for his seat.

"I haven't ruled anything in or out," Tennant told the Hotline, adding that she had received several phone calls and emails today urging her to look seriously at mounting a bid for Rockefeller's seat. "I'm seriously going to do that," she said. "I owe it to myself, to the people of West Virginia, to the secretary of state's office. ... I've proved that I can win statewide elections."

A spokeswoman for Rahall, who represents the state's Third District, said that a possible Senate bid is "under consideration," but declined to comment further.

Should either enter the race, they'll face off against Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., who has already declared a bid for the seat.

Asked whether she would pass on a bid should Rahall or another Democrat enter the race, Tennant said that would be part of her considerations.

"I just have a desire to offer ideas that, in some respects, people might not have thought of before. ... Sometimes you have to step out and make tough decisions ... (and be) willing to take on tough issues. And that's what I'll consider too," she said.

Tennant, who lost a special election for governor in 2011, said she was surprised by Rockefeller's announcement today and had no timeline for a decision, saying that she had only heard about it three hours earlier in a text from one of her staffers. "They kept this quiet," she said.

Former state party chairman Mike Callaghan has already indicated his interest in the seat as well, telling the Charleston Daily Mail in November that he would run should Rockfeller retire.

Other Democrats who make take a shot at Rockefeller's seat include former Sen. Carte Goodwin, former Gov. Gaston Caperton, former state party chairman Nick Casey and Jim Humphreys, who lost congressional races to Capito in 2000 and 2002. All four have the name recognition and the fundraising ability necessary to mount a competitive challenge in what promises to be a pricey race, according to Mike Plante, a Democratic consultant in the state.

Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who was elected to his first full term in 2013 with just over 50 percent of the vote, ruled out a Senate run in a statement on Friday evening.

“I look forward to spending my next four years as Governor making West Virginia a better place to live, work and raise a family," he said.

Given the options, Plante said that Rahall probably has the best shot with a long record of successful races in his district and his fundraising ability. Not to mention that his district lies in the Charleston-Huntington market, which bleeds into the Second Congressional District, giving Rahall decent name recognition in more than half of the state. Capito, however, is less well-known outside of her own district.

Should Rahall take the leap, Republican state Delegate John O'Neal has told Republican officials that he will consider a bid for the Third Congressional District. On the Democratic side, Harry Keith White, who chairs the House of Delegates' finance committee, and state Sen. Truman Chafin could both be viable candidates, Plante said, though neither has expressed interest in the race so far.

Rockefeller's reelection was going to be a tougher push than in years past due to his ties to President Obama -- who is so unpopular in the state that he lost 41% of the state's Democratic primary vote to an inmate in 2012 -- and the president's perceived "war on coal." The NRSC promised today that those issues will be sure to plague any Democrat that runs for the seat as well.

"Voters next year will have a clear choice between a Democrat who will be a loyal vote for President Obama and Harry Reid as they try to kill West Virginia's coal industry and bankrupt our country with reckless government spending, versus a Republican who will serve as an effective check-and-balance on their liberal agenda and work to get our country's economy back on track," NRSC executive director Rob Collins said in a statement.

Still, DSCC chairman Michael Bennet said in a statement that he remains "confident" that his party can hold the seat, citing Democrats' two-to-one voter advantage in the state. Plante agreed, noting that Republicans have "tended to run stronger in the presidential years, so I think that helps. I definitely think the seat is winnable."

Advantage or not, Obama lost the state by nearly 27 points in 2012 and Republicans now have a majority in the state's congressional delegation. Regardless of who runs for Rockefeller's seat, what was already a difficult seat for Democrats to hold this cycle just got that much harder.

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