Politics & Policy

In Obama’s America, Democrats Turning Republican

A West Virginia state senator leaves the Democratic party.

In West Virginia, a fed-up Democratic state senator is changing parties — and hoping to represent his state in Congress.

State senator Evan Jenkins is done with President Obama’s vision for America. “The Obama agenda has become crystal clear,” he says, pointing to the president’s support for “immigration reform that includes amnesty provisions” as well as “his limitations on our constitutional rights relating to gun ownership,” “his environmental agenda, which spells the end of coal and coal jobs,” and “the government takeover of health care.”

“Those are issues and positions that I just simply won’t embrace,” Jenkins adds, “and the Republican party is much more aligned with how I feel on the issues and priorities.”

Artur Davis, a former Alabama Democratic congressman who became a Republican last year and now lives in Virginia, sees Jenkins as part of a larger trend, one that the mainstream media are generally ignoring.

“It happens all the time in these more conservative states,” Davis says of Democrats becoming Republicans. “The reality is that the press rarely notes it.”

“In the state of Alabama, something like thirteen to fourteen elected Democrats have switched parties since 2010,” he continues. “The Alabama Republican-party chairman was telling me last year that at one point virtually every white Democrat in the Alabama legislature had reached out to them, with one or two exceptions,” to discuss switching to the GOP.

Davis says that while party-switching is a “very common event” in the Deep South, “it only gets national attention, frankly, when it’s an African American, because that tends to be an unusual event, or when someone is entering a political race” for a different office than the one he currently holds.

Jenkins is now running as a Republican in West Virginia’s third district, currently represented by 19-term Democratic congressman Nick Rahall. The seat is a prime pickup opportunity for Republicans: The National Republican Congressional Committee has named it one of the top seven seats they’re targeting in 2014 to turn red. “This district went for Bush in 2004, went for McCain in 2008, and it went for Romney in 2012,” explains NRCC spokesman Ian Prior. While Rahall beat Republican candidate Rick Snuffer by 8 points in 2012, the NRCC believes that Rahall’s decision to vote for the House Progressive Caucus’s budget is “as bad a vote as you can get here in West Virginia.”

“The progressive budget has a $25-per-ton carbon tax in it, which would simply devastate the coal industry. It also discriminatorily raises taxes on the gas and oil industries,” Prior says.

“Rahall made a critical mistake when he voted for the Progressive Caucus’s budget,” agrees West Virginia radio host Hoppy Kercheval. “That’s largely a symbolic vote, but the GOP is going to hammer him on that.”

Kercheval sees Jenkins as having a regional advantage that could prove crucial in his race against Rahall. “A key for Jenkins is that he’s from Cabell County, the largest in the district,” Kercheval says. “If some of the Democrats who have voted for him over the years as a member of the legislature can get past his party switch, it will be a problem for Rahall.” In 2012, Rahall beat his GOP opponent by 14 points in Cabell County.

Jenkins, no doubt, will face some tough questions about his decision to switch parties. In particular, the fact that Jenkins made a $500 donation to Rahall in the 2010 election will raise eyebrows; he is now attacking Rahall as someone who voted with Nancy Pelosi 97 percent of the time during 2009 and 2010.

“I was a Democrat then,” explains Jenkins. “He had donated to my reelection campaign.” Jenkins also stresses that he didn’t donate to Rahall in 2012.

For Jenkins, the reason to run against Rahall is clear: He wants to make sure the House continues to resist Obama’s policies. “The only check and balance that we have as a country and state on the Obama Democrat agenda is a Republican-led and -controlled House of Representatives,” he says.

– Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.


Katrina TrinkoKatrina Trinko is a political reporter for National Review. Trinko is also a member of USA TODAY’S Board of Contributors, and her work has been published in various media outlets ...