Historically, Democratic members of Congress from West Virginia have sashayed through elections. Reelection for incumbents was assured the day they paid the filing fee.
It became evident in 2010 when West Virginia’s 1st Congressional District flipped from Democrat to Republican. That was set in motion by the defeat of long-time Democratic Congressman Alan Mollohan in the Primary.
Now the senior member of the state’s Congressional delegation, 3rd District Representative Nick Rahall finds himself in a serious race.
The Southern West Virginia Democrat is being challenged by Evan Jenkins, a state Senator who switched from the Democrat to Republican Party to enter the race.
The Jenkins campaign is touting a survey by Harper Polling showing the race is a virtual toss-up, with Rahall leading 46 percent to 42 percent. Granted, it’s Jenkins’ poll, which means observers will question its credibility and the Rahall campaign can publicly dismiss it.
However, privately Rahall must be concerned about some of the findings.
Forty-four percent of those questioned have an unfavorable opinion of Rahall. That’s a dangerously high number. Even if it’s inflated, there is a tide that washes against the Congressman’s long-standing beachhead.
For example, the poll shows 43 percent of likely voters in the 3rd list energy and coal, the economy or jobs as their main issue. Some of that voter anxiety can be linked to the uncertainty in the coal industry created, in part, by the regulatory assault from President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency.
True, Rahall has been openly critical of the EPA, but it’s difficult for the Congressman to completely distance himself from the President on this issue.
The respected Cook Political Report has moved the 3rd District race from “leans Democrat” to “toss-up.” Says Cook, “Rahall won’t have President Obama to contend with on the ballot next year, but the Administration’s decision to move forward with new energy regulations ensure the prevalence of the EPA in this race.”
(Note: Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball still has the race leaning Rahall’s way, while Stuart Rothenberg has it “Democrat favored.” )
Rahall also takes a hit from the current dysfunction in Washington. Most voters blame the Republicans for the recent government shutdown and the budget mess, but Democrats did not escape unscathed.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that 61 percent of Americans blame Congressional Democrats (74 percent blame Congressional Republicans).
Jenkins also has been able to raise money. Campaign finance reports just filed show he collected $207,000 in the third quarter and has $200,000 on hand. He outraised Rahall during the quarter by $54,000, but Rahall still has more money on hand–$474,000.
As the Cook Report concluded, “Rahall has persisted here since 1976 and starts off with a small lead, but this looks like it is shaping up to be the race of his career.”