The National Republican Congressional Committee wanted everyone to know this week about its poll in West Virginia’s 3rd District Congressional race. The poll has Republican challenger Evan Jenkins ahead of Democratic incumbent Nick Rahall by 14 points, 54-40.
Naturally, the poll must be viewed skeptically because of its source, however, there is mounting evidence that the long-time incumbent is in the race of his life. The national Republican Party smells blood, and is focusing on the race.
The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake reports that “The conservative groups, led by the Chamber of Commerce, the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity and the American Energy alliance, have spent about $1.4 million since late 2013—the vast majority attacking Rahall.”
Meanwhile, Blake reports the House Majority PAC has spent only $160,000 in support of Rahall in the race.
The GOP poll suggests that those attack ads are paying off, with Rahall’s approval rating down to 38 percent, while 54 percent rate him negatively. Perhaps more importantly, however, the poll can be used to generate more campaign contributions for Jenkins because it creates the impression that he can win.
Jenkins still trailed Rahall in the last campaign finance report (4th quarter 2013); Rahall had $840,000 in the bank, twice as much as Jenkins. But the national interest in the race means third party money will be doused on the district, and so far most of the outside money has gone toward helping Jenkins. Many of the ads criticize Rahall on issues like Obamacare–which he voted for–and the EPA.
The Post’s Blake now sees WV-3 as a toss-up, the same as the Cook Political Report. In fact, Cook has had the Rahall-Jenkins race in the toss-up category since last fall. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball moved WV-3 from leans Democrat to toss-up last month. The Rothenberg Report still has WV-3 leaning Democrat.
The Crystal Ball’s Kyle Kondik writes, “Although Rahall is a proven commodity who is going to be difficult to defeat, the terrain he’s defending — 65% Romney — is just very challenging even taking into account the Mountain State’s local Democratic tradition, and outside Republican groups have been hammering away at him.”
It’s hard not to give at least a slight advantage to Rahall right now. After all, he’s found a way to win elections every two years since 1976. You don’t do that without some political acumen to go along with an advantage in party registration and weak competition.
But 2014 is shaping up to be a race like no other that WV-3 has seen.