Rockefeller under Seige

by John Fund

The jockeying for Senate races in 2014 has already begun. West Virginia GOP congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito will announce today her plans to challenge 75-year-old Democratic incumbent Jay Rockefeller. The early move is clearly an attempt to nudge into retirement a liberal Democrat who is increasingly out of step with his state. West Virginia, once solidly Democratic at the presidential level, gave President Obam a only 35 percent of the vote this year, down from 43 percent in 2008.

The West Virginia Poll taken last August shows just how vulnerable Rockefeller is to a Republican challenge. Pollster R. J. Repass found Rockefeller trailing Capito by 48 percent to 44 percent, an astonishingly bad showing for a universally known incumbent. Repass says Rockefeller has been hurt by his recent votes in favor of Obamacare and his support for environmental regulations that are seen as threatening coal production in his state.

If Rockefeller does run again, the contest will be the latest chapter in a long grudge match between two proud families. Shelley Moore Capito is the daughter of former GOP governor Arch Moore, who defeated a 35-year-old Jay Rockefeller in his first political race — a 1972 bid for West Virginia governor. Moore’s bumper stickers poked fun at the patrician Rockefeller’s lavish campaign spending. They read: “Make him spend it all, Arch!”

But Rockefeller claimed the prize he had sought in 1976, when he succeeded a term-limited Moore as governor. He then exacted some revenge in 1978 when he played a role in helping defeat Moore’s bid for a U.S. Senate seat. After two terms as governor, Rockefeller moved on to the Senate in 1984.

Capito would clearly be a tough opponent for Rockefeller. She has compiled a moderate-to-conservative record during seven terms in the House and over the course of two redistrictings has represented almost 40 percent of the state in Congress.

Despite devastating losses in this year’s Senate races, Republicans have clearly not given up on taking over Senate control in 2014. Of the 33 seats up for grabs that year, Democrats hold 20 seats and several of them are held by elderly incumbents other than Rockefeller who could retire — among them 88-year-old Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, 78-year-old Carl Levin of Michigan, and 68-year-old Dick Durbin of Illinois.

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