HUNTINGTON -- For Cabell County Sen. Evan Jenkins, joining the Republican Party and running for Congress is the only way to address a Democratic national agenda he sees as detrimental to West Virginia.
"Just sending a much more conservative Democrat to Washington doesn't address the most critical issue, which is making sure (President Barack) Obama and his agenda don't take control," Jenkins said Tuesday, referencing the Republican-controlled U.S. House.
"This is something that I, in my heart and mind, feel is absolutely necessary ... to make sure we have a Republican in Congress representing our district as a check and balance."
Jenkins, 54, announced his decision Tuesday to switch party affiliations and launch a campaign for the 3rd Congressional District seat currently held by Democrat Nick Rahall.
A lawyer by trade, Jenkins is the executive director of the West Virginia Medical Association. He has served in the state Senate since 2002 and in the state House from 1994 to 2000. In 2000, he unsuccessfully ran for the state Supreme Court.
This isn't his first party switch.
He was a registered Republican until 1993, according to The Associated Press. He switched to Democrat before running for office for the first time.
The Democratic Party isn't the same as it was in the past, Jenkins said Wednesday morning, and he can't be a part of its agenda.
Federal policies regarding coal received the brunt of his disdain. A popular move by Democrat and Republican politicians in the state, Jenkins said newly proposed policies and regulations would cripple the industry.
"Does the coal industry have challenges? Yes," Jenkins said. "What they don't need is an anti-coal driving force in Washington, in the White House that is directing their EPA to change the rules and regulations ... without any input from Congress."
Rahall has done too much to support the president and the Democratic national agenda, Jenkins argued. He pointed to Rahall's vote for the "progressive budget," a proposed budget amendment with sparse congressional support. Jenkins joined in with recent cries from Republicans that the measure included a carbon tax that would have "devastated the coal industry."
Jenkins said he would fight against national regulations he feels could harm coal-fired power plants.
Jenkins also pointed to Rahall's vote in support of the Affordable Care Act, frequently called Obamacare. The sweeping reform measure will cost the state too much money and threaten people's ability to choose their own doctor, Jenkins said.
Rahall scoffed at Jenkins' claims, labeling him an opportunistic flip-flopper.
"It's clear now that they cannot find another Republican to run against me so they have found a flip-flop-flipper to run against me," Rahall said Wednesday in a phone interview.
"And somebody who flip, flop, flips to me has no real set of values or beliefs. He's just looking for a title."
Rahall said he voted for the budget amendment but said it did not include any carbon tax, and he questioned whether Jenkins had read the bill. The congressman, first elected to the House in 1976, also questioned whether Jenkins could make it past the Republican primary.
In 2012, Rahall beat Republican challenger Rick Snuffer. Rahall said he thought Snuffer might run again and said such a scenario would be a "tough row to hoe" for Jenkins.
Snuffer indicated he still might run. He told the Beckley Register-Herald that "Washington" internal polls showed he had a lead in the district over Jenkins, and he's confident he'd be competitive in the 2014 election.
State GOP Chairman Conrad Lucas said he didn't know if Snuffer would run. He said voters decide the candidate, but the state GOP is happy to have Jenkins rejoin its ranks.
"Today isn't really about partisanship. It's about the courage and strength shown by Evan Jenkins to be someone who joined a party that represents his values," Lucas said.