Typically, when a highly sought-after political seat opens up, potential candidates line up for their opportunity to run. So you would think that with Senator Jay Rockefeller’s early announcement that he’s not running for re-election in 2014, Democratic candidates would be scrambling for position.
After all, the state’s two senate seats have been blue since the 1958 election. The late Robert Byrd and Jennings Randolph, along with Rockefeller and now Joe Manchin—all Democrats—have kept those positions warm, safe and dry for their party.
Consider also that the Democratic Party still holds a 52 percent to 29 percent voter registration advantage over Republicans (19 percent are independent or third party).
What’s not to love about being a Rockefeller heir?
But the royal lineage has petered out, at least for now, as the Democratic Party scratches from its list of possible successors one name after another. The latest to take her name out of contention is state Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis.
When asked on Metronews Talkline yesterday if she was considering a run, Davis gave an unequivocal “absolutely not.” Yes, she had gotten phone calls and emails from Dems wanting her to run and, yes, party power brokers in Washington had talked to her, but Davis says she loves the law and likes her job.
So Davis joins Congressman Nick Rahall, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, Charleston attorney Carte Goodwin (Booth Goodwin’s first cousin), Nick Preservati, who is also a Charleston lawyer, Wheeling attorney Ralph Baxter, and former Governor Gaston Caperton as some of the potentially viable candidates who have ruled out a Senate run.
What happened to the Democratic bench?
Years of political logjam at the top of the Democratic Party in West Virginia blocked potential candidates from pursuing a prized Senate seat. Over the last half century, Rockefeller only ascended after Randolph retired and Manchin moved up only after Byrd died.
Meanwhile, aspiring Democratic candidates settled in down ballot where they grew accustomed to automatic nominations and benefited from popular vote-getters at the top of the ticket.
Party leaders say there’s still plenty of time to find someone to take on Republican Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito for Rockefeller’s seat. But time is not the issue, at least not yet. The bigger problem is that the pool of potential candidates is getting smaller by the week.
Democratic leaders in West Virginia and in Washington are holding out hope that Secretary of State Natalie Tennant will enter the race. Tennant remains non-committal publicly, but is believed to be seriously considering it.
Also, retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Allen Tackett is pondering the possibility of a Senate run. Tackett, who built a statewide reputation as the gung-ho leader of the state’s National Guard, was a close friend of Byrd’s.
Either could be a viable candidate. But the prospect of an expensive and high-stakes campaign against a tough, well-financed opponent in a race with national implications is daunting. The list of potential Democratic candidates who have chosen not to run makes that point abundantly clear.