CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Southern West Virginia’s race for Congress is already getting crowded.
State Delegate Rupie Phillips, a former Democrat who earlier this year became an independent, changed his registration today to run for Congress as a Republican. He’s aiming for a 3rd District seat being vacated by Congressman Evan Jenkins, a Republican who also used to be a Democrat.
Former Delegate Rick Snuffer, a Republican, also announced his run for Congress this week.
State Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas has not announced so far, but was profiled by the Washington Examiner newspaper as a potential congressional candidate.
On the Democratic side, state Senator Richard Ojeda filed his papers to run for Congress on Thursday.
The election isn’t actually until 2018, but a congressional opening was created when Jenkins this week announced his intention to run for U.S. Senate against Democrat Joe Manchin.
“Somebody said ‘Why are you jumping in so early?'” Phillips said today after his announcement in the Governor’s Conference Room at the state Capitol. “If you don’t let people know you’re doing it, who knows who will jump in. I’ve never been shy.”
Phillips, whose full name is Rupert Phillips Jr., is an Air Force veteran and a Logan resident. He has served in the Legislature since 2010, became an independent last January, and sometimes joked about caucusing by himself. His license plate says “COALDEL” for coal delegate.
Phillips said he is running as a Republican because the party is a better fit. During his announcement he was surrounded by representatives of the state Coal Association and the West Virginia Citizens Defense League, a pro-gun lobbying group.
“The Democratic Party left southern West Virginia Democrats a long time ago,” Phillips said. “The D.C. liberals and now the state Democratic Party.
“It’s a shame that when I was a Democrat I had to fight my own party to support what we do down in southern West Virginia. It’s disheartening. I’ve been so frustrated.”
Snuffer, who is currently serving as an adult technical education instructor while running his own construction business, told the Bluefield Daily Telegraph he also sees the potential for someone with a common touch to serve in Congress.
Snuffer served in the House of Delegates from 2010 to 2012. He ran for Congress in 2012 and won the Republican primary but was defeated by then-incumbent Democrat Nick Joe Rahall.
“I’m not the typical political type the Washington establishment usually comes running after when there is an open congressional seat like this; but I do represent the hard working, everyday West Virginians that live throughout our 3rd Congressional District,” Snuffer told the newspaper.
Lucas told the Washington Examiner he has been approached about running for Congress and would make an announcement within the next few weeks.
“I will give great consideration to the encouragement that I’ve gotten from individuals across the district and across the state to taking that next step,” Lucas added. “I’ll be making a decision in due time.”
In addition to being the state Republican Party Chairman, Lucas is a lobbyist for Capitol Resources LLC. He’s a Huntington native and a former staffer for U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito.
Ojeda, who changed his official Twitter persona to @Ojeda4Congress today, was elected to the state Senate just last year after defeating incumbent Democratic Senator Art Kirkendoll in the primary. During the campaign he was seriously injured in a beating that Ojeda said was politically motivated.
Once in office, Ojeda was a driving force behind medical marijuana legislation during this past year’s legislative session.
The Logan native retired from the Army in 2013. He ran for Congress in 2014, losing to Rahall in the Democratic primary. Jenkins later defeated Rahall in the general election to win the seat that is now up for grabs once again.
The general election in 2018 is set for that November 6. The 2018 primary election is that May 8.
Phillips referenced that possibility during his speech to announce his candidacy.
“Basically guys, this is the last opportunity for someone from southern West Virginia to win this seat because more than likely this seat will only be here for four more years after this election,” Phillips said. “I want to be that guy that hopefully fills that spot.”