CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A prominent state Democrat denied rumors Wednesday she might run for U.S. Senate, and in the process, scorched state party leadership and delighted the GOP.
"I think the old guard has let our party down. There is absolutely no leadership and no vision," state Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis said in a radio interview with Talkline host Hoppy Kercheval.
Davis appeared on the show to discuss the odds of her running for Sen. Jay Rockefeller's soon-to-be-vacated seat. Davis has been mentioned as a potential candidate ever since Rockefeller announced he wouldn't run for reelection.
Davis, first elected to the Supreme Court in 1996, said she was "absolutely not" interested in running for Senate.
When asked about difficulties in finding a candidate, Davis lit into state party leadership. Her comments went beyond candidate recruitment.
"I think they're tired of a select few of Democrats making decisions for our entire party. They're very tired of not being included in the decision-making process, and that only a select few of leaders in the Democratic Party are calling the shots," Davis said.
"And I think that's led to factions, it's led to fractures in our party, and discontent in the party, and I think it's obvious."
The statements didn't sit well with Larry Puccio, state party chairman.
He didn't hear the show, but heard about her comments from several people. He questioned how much she knew about the state party's recruitment efforts.
"Truthfully, I don't think the Supreme Court justice understands how that works," Puccio said. "That's dealt with out of Washington, D.C. We don't handle that."
Puccio said typically the state party stays out of the way of the national party when it comes to finding a candidate for national office. Once the national party tabs a candidate, Puccio said the state party promotes that person in West Virginia.
The amount of money needed to run a successful Senate campaign is also a reason the state Democrats take a back seat in recruiting federal candidates, Puccio said.
"The Democrat candidate will raise the majority of their money outside of the state by large Democrat groups and supporters," Puccio said.
State Republicans quickly latched on to the infighting.
West Virginia Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas criticized Puccio and Democrats for their recruiting and fundraising policies.
"Thank you Larry Puccio for confirming that every (Democrat) candidate for federal office in West Virginia is handpicked by Barack Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi," Lucas said.
President Obama is very unpopular in the state. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., are also frequent targets of Republican attacks locally and nationally.
Puccio never mentioned the trio, but Lucas said he thinks it's clear that's what he meant.
Typically, the state GOP is the first "press point" for both candidates and the national party, Lucas said. National organizations do play a role, but he said they trust the state party to also handle parts of recruitment. That includes some fundraising, Lucas said.
"The test of a true candidate in the state is their ability to gain support within the state borders," Lucas said.
"If the Democrats are planning on only spending out-of-state dollars, those are dollars that are out of touch with West Virginia."
Other Democrats tried to stay out of the argument.