Sabatos Crystal Ball

West Virginia Races

Senate Outlook for 2008

Can Democrats Take Advantage of the Turf?

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West Virginia

Outlook: Solid Democratic


June 18, 2008 Update:

After prevailing easily in West Virginia’s May primary, Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller turns his sights to November. Rockefeller’s general election opponent will be former state senator Jay Wolfe who has run twice for the U.S. Senate and been unsuccessful in both previous attempts. At this juncture, Wolfe’s current attempt appears to be slated for a similar fate, as Rockefeller should easily hold the seat.

April 14, 2008 Update:

The Mountaineer State media sure seems to think Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller has this year’s election locked up. The state’s largest newspaper, the Charleston Gazette, endorsed Rockefeller last week, and predicted that he’ll win “with such ease he needn’t bother campaigning.” We wouldn’t go quite that far, as he does face a nominal challenge in next month’s Democratic primary and, presuming he retains the nomination, another in a string of subpar Republican challengers come November, but do expect to keep seeing Rockefeller in a Senate chamber near you.


Background

It’s hard to believe that someone who has been in the Senate since 1985 is a junior Senator. But Jay Rockefeller is just that, thanks to fellow Democrat Robert Byrd‘s 48-year tenure. Both have approval ratings over 60%, and unless Byrd retires mid-term, neither should lose his seat in 2008.

Rockefeller is chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and uses that seat as a platform for his position opposing the Iraq war. He has won his last two elections by absurdly large margins: he carried 63% of the vote in 2002, and 77% in 1996. His populist positions have gained him much respect in working-class West Virginia, positions such as his strong support for the Clinton healthcare plan in 1993.

The NRSC has Rockefeller on its targets list, but state Republicans have been wary to tangle with the financially overwhelming incumbent. Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito of the 2nd District (and West Virginia’s only Republican Representative) had made overtures at a campaign, but announced she will eschew the Senate campaign in favor of running for reelection in the 2nd. John Raese, who was crushed by Byrd in 2006, has also received mention as a possible candidate. If Rockefeller brings the barrel of his political and financial networks to bear on a challenger, he should easily secure himself yet another term.

Candidates

Jay Rockefeller (I) – Democrat – current Senator
Website

Jay Wolfe – Republican – former state senator
Website