CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For 25 years, West Virginia had the same two Democratic U.S. senators, Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, who put a glass ceiling on other politicians' rise to power.
Byrd died in 2010 and Rockefeller, 75, announced Friday he would not seek a sixth term in 2014.
Now, as they did when Byrd died, Democrats and Republicans across the state are eyeing the political ladder to Washington.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., announced last month she would run for the Senate with or without Rockefeller on the ballot.
With Rockefeller out, Democrats are floating their names, working the phones and figuring out what it will take to challenge the formidable Capito.
"Everybody I know thinks Shelley Capito is well positioned and well liked, and she is working hard and she has an infrastructure in place and she is clearly the frontrunner," said state Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts, who has been at odds with Rockefeller.
Nobody has declared their intentions firmly, but numerous names were mentioned and traditional Democratic Party factions were beginning their hunt for a contender.
There is some effort to make sure the new senator is a reliable vote on traditional Democratic issues. Rockefeller's colleague, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is perhaps not that reliable vote.
In 2009-2010, Rockefeller fought hard for the health care reform law, while Manchin, then governor, danced around the issue.
"I know it's not particularly popular in West Virginia, but, frankly that's OK," Rockefeller said during his announcement Friday at the state Culture Center in Charleston.
Elaine Harris, an international representative for the Communications Workers of America, was one of few in the West Virginia political world to get advanced notice Thursday night that Rockefeller would retire. She said the senator did not waver on issues important to unions.
"Without hesitation, he's been there fighting the tough fights and when he's up for the right thing, he will fight," Harris said.
Possible candidates to replace Rockefeller include current Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. A spokesman said the congressman is considering a Senate run. If Rahall goes for the Senate seat, he would put a Democratic-controlled House seat in play. Rahall's 2012 challenger, Rick Snuffer, and a new state senator from the area, Bill Cole, are Republicans said to be thinking about running for that House seat, with or without Rahall in the race.
Former U.S. Sen. Carte Goodwin said Friday he was drawn to public service and flattered that his name was being discussed. Goodwin filled four months of Byrd's unexpired term in 2010 before the state held an election to send Manchin to the Senate.