Running against Capito, Obama

So, who’s going to be the sacrificial candidate? That’s the question of the day, in the wake of U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s announcement he will not seek re-election in 2014.

No doubt one reason Rockefeller ended months of speculation is that he understands the West Virginia Democrat Party needs time to find – and finance – candidates to run in his place.

Providing Republicans don’t shoot themselves in the collective foot, they ought to have the Senate seat in the bag. One GOP leader, U.S. Rep. Shelley Capito, who represents central West Virginia, already has revealed she plans to run for Rockefeller’s seat.

The task facing Democrat leaders is to find a candidate who can respond to inevitable policy questions by responding, “Barack who?”

That’s why Capito might well have beaten Rockefeller, had he chosen to run in 2014. The incumbent marches in lock-step with President Obama on issues ranging from killing the coal industry to the government takeover of our health care system.

Obama wasn’t able to claim a majority at the polls in any of West Virginia’s 55 counties – not even the traditional Democrat Party strongholds – last fall. His popularity will decline even more during the next couple of years, as more mines and coal-fired power plants close and more people see their health insurance bills going up as a result of Obamacare. Remember, the law is scheduled for full implementation in 2014.

Already, the case against Obamacare is strong among those who pay their own health care bills or have private insurance, possibly through employers. Some health insurance companies serving West Virginia have announced major rate increases during the past few months. And last week, about 15 hospitals were granted permission to increase what they charge to “nongovernment” patients.

So who wants to be the Democrat taking on Obama – er, I mean Capito – in 2014?

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, who represents the southern counties? Not if he’s smart. He’ll do well to hold on to the House seat he already has. In part because he’s of the same party as Obama, Rahall was able to garner just 54 percent of the vote to win re-election last fall. In the southern coalfields, that isn’t much of a margin over a Republican.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who certainly has the name recognition for a statewide race? No. Having finally won election to a full four-year term as governor, Tomblin probably isn’t in the mood to begin running again. Besides, he’d be viewed as a job-hopper if he tried to leave Charleston.

Lots of other names already have been mentioned as potential Democrat candidates for the Senate. They include state Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis and Carte Goodwin, who served as interim U.S. senator for about four months after Sen. Robert Byrd died.

I haven’t heard much enthusiasm for a run among leading Democrats, however, and there’s a good reason for that: The incumbent may be their worst enemy.

Here’s why: Rockefeller has lost touch with West Virginians. He’s made it clear he’s a dyed-in-the-wool liberal at a time when many Mountain State Democrats are taking a fresh, critical look at their party’s principles.

During the next year and a half, battles over energy, health care and fiscal policy will take place in the Senate. There is every reason to believe Rockefeller will address them as he has similar questions during the past several years – and many West Virginians will take that as a good reason to replace Jay with a Republican.

In other words, the die may have been cast already for the 2014 U.S. Senate race in our state. Rockefeller may be getting out while the getting’s good, as we used to say.

Still, the lure of a U.S. Senate seat will prove irresistible to some Democrats. Because fundraising has to begin immediately, it shouldn’t be long before we know who they are.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mike Myer is executive editor of The Intelligencer and the Wheeling News-Register. He can be reached via e-mail at