CHARLESTON, W.Va. - State Sen. Bill Cole, R-Mercer, said Wednesday he won't challenge U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., for the third congressional district seat in 2014.
"Really, it's been something I've been struggling back and forth with for the last couple of months," Cole said in a phone interview.
"At the end of day, it came down to where I think I can make the most impact."
In a race that state and national Republican officials consider very winnable, Cole was the party's presumed leading candidate. The National Republican Congressional Committee made at least one trip to southern West Virginia to try and woo the freshman senator into facing off against Rahall.
A successful car salesman, Cole said the amount of encouragement he received for a Congressional bid was flattering and humbling. He doesn't think it's the right time to leave state government.
"If I left after one year... you spend your first year trying to figure out where the meetings are," Cole said, laughing. "(Leaving after one year) doesn't represent me very well. It doesn't show me as someone who's willing to follow through on promises..."
Cole is the second Republican state lawmaker to bow out of a congressional race this month.
Kanawha County Delegate Eric Nelson said in early June he won't vie for the second congressional district seat in the U.S. House. Like Cole, Nelson was also considered a favorite for the GOP nod in the race and met with the NRCC to discuss his candidacy.
Political magazine National Journal said Cole's decision robbed National Republicans and left them without an obvious Rahall challenger. Roll Call, another political publication, said "Cole's decision is a blow for Republicans."
State Party Chairman Conrad Lucas and NRCC spokesman Ian Prior said Wednesday the party has plenty of qualified candidates who can win both elections. But the appeal of serving in state government is very high, Lucas said.
"There are so many people who want to be part of the state legislature," Lucas said. "It's an incredibly attractive time for Republicans in West Virginia to serve in the legislature, because we all know we're on the brink of something great..."
Republicans picked up 11 seats in the House of Delegates in the 2012 elections, coming within five seats of the majority. Both Nelson and Cole noted GOP advances as part of the reason they decided against congressional races.
Lucas said he started receiving calls Wednesday almost immediately after Coles announced. There are at least three other people interested in taking on Rahall he said, declining to give their names.
Lucas also received calls encouraging him to run for the seat. He's spoken with people in the state and Washington, D.C. about potentially running and serving in Congress is a "personal dream."