(Editor’s note: Commentary updated at 8:30 am to reflect that sources say Preservati has decided NOT to run.)
Lawyers like to say that trials are often won or lost when the jury is selected; get the right people on the jury and you’ll improve your chances for success.
The parallel in politics is the filing deadline, especially in cases where one party is trying to find a candidate to challenge an incumbent or known quantity. The political landscape is littered with forgotten names of hopefuls who never had a chance against an established opponent.
And this is the challenge facing the West Virginia Democratic Party for the 2014 U.S. Senate race. Long-time Senator Jay Rockefeller is not running for re-election. Surely there should be established Democrats who have been paying their dues, anxiously awaiting a chance.
But there aren’t.
Third District Congressman Nick Rahall thought about running for the Senate, but decided instead to try to win re-election. West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant’s name has surfaced, but she’s believed to be more interested in running for Governor in 2016. Robin Davis? She would have to give up her seat on the state Supreme Court the moment she declared her candidacy, making her entry unlikely.
After that, the names of possible candidates that have surfaced so far are political newcomers.
Ralph Baxter has taken himself out of contention. Baxter is a successful and wealthy attorney who spent most of his adult life in San Francisco, but has returned to his native state to try to make a difference. However, a political campaign doesn’t fit right now.
“My family and I have decided that this is not the right time for us to seek political office,” he told me on Talkline last week.
Then there is Nick Preservati. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has personally recruited the Charleston lawyer, believing that he can run as a business-friendly, pro-life Democrat who has a strong connection to the coal industry. His father, Dick, is a successful coal operator who made millions when he sold his holdings to Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal.
So Nick Preservati, who is successful in his own right, has access to the kind of money necessary to run a viable campaign. I’m told he has a deep interest in politics, but sources say now he has decided NOT to run. Preservati and his wife are adopting a child and, sources say, they have decided that it was not the right time to get into politics.
Who could blame him?
Looming is one of the state’s most formidable political figures—Republican Shelley Moore Capito. The seven-term Congresswoman from Charleston has already announced her plans to run. Her presence in the race, and her political success, have even some Democratic players warning would-be candidates of just how big a hill 2014 will be.
Can Capito be defeated? Yes, and for a variety of reasons: she has a record to defend; there are still more Democrats than Republicans here (52% Dem, 29% GOP, 19% Independent or other) and the national Democratic Party is going to fight like mad to keep from losing the seat.
But the likelihood of that happening still depends on the Democrats recruiting a candidate with winning characteristics, including, but not limited to, a fire in their belly, the ability to connect with voters, a clean record and some personal wealth.
Baxter is out, so is Preservati and now the Democrats have to return to the recruitment pool, which will be a wade in the shallows. The 2014 U.S. Senate race in West Virginia would be among the highest profile races in the country, if the right Democrat gets in.
If not, the race will be over when the filing deadline expires in January.