Jay Rockefeller’s in Big Trouble in West Virginia—and So Are the Dems
After a brutal Election Day, Republicans led off the 2014 recruiting cycle with some good news: Popular West Virginia Rep. Shelley Moore Capito announced that she would challenge long-time Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller for his seat. Although Rockefeller has never won reelection by less than 27 percentage points and Democrats continue to dominate at the state-level in West Virginia, Republicans have plenty of cause to be optimistic about their chances in the Mountain State.
When Jay Rockefeller first won his Senate seat in 1984, West Virginia was one of the most Democratic states in the country. Democrats had performed better in West Virginia than the country as a whole in just about every election since 1932, when the New Deal and the United Mine Workers brought impoverished and heavily unionized West Virginia into the Democratic-fold. Democratic presidential candidates won West Virginia in four of the six presidential elections between 1968 and 1988, with Republicans only prevailing in Nixon and Reagan’s 49-state landslides.
The national Democratic Party’s embrace of gun control and environmental regulations brought an abrupt end to West Virginia’s Democratic-lean in presidential elections, but local and state Democrats distanced themselves from the national party on cultural and environmental issues and continued to succeed in statewide elections. Indeed, Rockefeller won reelection by 27 points in 2008, even though McCain won the state by 13 points—a 40-point gap. But after four years of the Obama administration, it is unclear whether Rockefeller can pull it off again. The fight over Cap and Trade and the so-called “War on Coal” were devastating blows to Obama’s standing in coal country, turning an area that was as blue as New York into one as crimson as Alabama. (For example, Romney gained a staggering 42 points over McCain’s performance in Boone County and won by 31 points, even though Boone had voted for Democrats in all but one presidential election since Coolidge.)