CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The political tide may be changing in West Virginia.
“I believe this state is in a slow and steady transition,” said West Virginia Wesleyan Political Science Professor Robert Rupp of the shift in West Virginia from a reliable Democratic stronghold to one where Republicans are making gains.
It’s the kind of change, Rupp said, that will likely become more clear during the 2014 elections.
“The Democratic Party has to reinvigorate itself and the Republican Party has to invigorate itself and, either way, I think we’re heading towards a more competitive politics,” he said on Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
Next year’s retirement of U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) will leave the Democratic Party without an entrenched candidate at the top of the ticket for the first time in decades, dating back to the time before late Senator Jennings Randolph (D-WV) and late Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV), which is a matter only complicated by President Barack Obama’s unpopularity in the Mountain State.
In the state House of Delegates, Republicans have been adding to their numbers in recent years. There are currently 54 Democrats and 46 Republicans in the House and leaders of the state Republican Party are working to gain the majority as soon as next year.
Senator Bill Cole (R-Mercer, 6) sees the change. That’s why, he said, he is helping others recruit Republican Senate candidates for 2014. “I believe the timing is right for us to make a move in the Senate. It’s certainly moving that way quickly in the House,” he said.
Currently, Democrats have control of the state Senate by a margin of 24-10, including Senator Evan Jenkins (R-Cabell, 5) who recently changed his party affiliation and launched a Congressional campaign for the Third District.
Cole said several Republicans are on the verge of announcing state Senate campaigns. Getting people in the races, he said, is an important first step. “We’ve had too many times, over the years, when the candidate on our side was called ‘no candidate filed’ and we need to fix that,” said Cole.
According to state records, half of all registered voters in West Virginia are Democrats, a number that has dropped from 65 percent in 1994.
During the same time, the state has seen an increase in registered independent voters, a number that climbed from four percent in 1994 to almost 19 percent today. By comparison, Republican registration is down slightly to just below 30 percent.
“What historians will look back (at) is how long this state was dominated. We’re talking about two generations. Since 1932, Democrats have not just been the majority, but dominant,” said Rupp.
The 2014 Primary Election is just more than six months from now. It’s set for Tuesday, May 13.