Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin churned up the political waters last week when he told reporters he has been approached about running for West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District seat in 2016—and that he hasn’t ruled it out. The Logan County Democrat cannot run for re-election to the governor’s post next year because of term limits.
State and national Democratic Party leaders would be thrilled with a Tomblin challenge to first-term Republican Congressman Evan Jenkins.
Tomblin has excellent name recognition, especially in Southern West Virginia, and remains a popular governor. A recent survey by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s pollster, Global Strategy Group, found 54 percent of West Virginians view Tomblin favorably, while 32 percent view him unfavorably.
Tomblin has never lost an election, starting back in 1974 when he was first won a seat in the West Virginia Legislature. In the 2012 gubernatorial race against Republican Bill Maloney, Tomblin carried 13 of the 18 counties in the 3rd District, losing only three (Mercer, Monroe and Raleigh) and splitting two (Greenbrier and Nicholas).
But does Tomblin really want to run for Congress, especially after being governor?
The conventional wisdom (which is often a dangerous assumption) has always been that Tomblin would go quietly into the night. He will turn 65 a couple months after his term ends. His wife, Joanne, is retiring this year as the president of Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College. The couple has a vacation home in Myrtle Beach, where they would like to spend more time.
During an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline” this week, Tomblin first gave the same careful answer as last week, saying he had been approached about running and that he has not made any plans yet for 2016.
But it was revealing when I asked Tomblin if, assuming he would be elected, he wanted to go from serving as the state’s top executive—with all the accompanying power and perks—to commuting between Chapmanville and Washington as one of 435 members of Congress.
Tomblin laughed, and then added, “As I said, I have not made any plans yet… it’s not on the top of my list. It’s just a question that came up last week.”
That doesn’t sound like a guy clamoring to get in the race. So if not Tomblin, then who?
The name of former state Senator Mike Green has been mentioned. The Raleigh County Democrat has always had his eye on the governorship, however that plan was somewhat derailed last year when he lost a bitter Senate re-election battle to Republican Jeff Mullins.
Green told me this week he would like to get back in the political process and a Congressional run is a possibility. “I have been contacted by folks at the local and state level to gauge my interest, so I’m keeping my options open.”
Wayne County Democratic House of Delegates member Doug Reynolds has also been approached. Reynolds has not made any decisions about 2016 but sounded doubtful about a Congressional ru, citing family commitments involving his four children.
State and national Democratic leaders realize West Virginia got away from them in 2014 and they’re determined not to make the same mistake in 2016. That starts with recruiting viable candidates, particularly at the top of the ticket, and that’s new territory for the historically dominant party.