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In W.Va. politics, a looming showdown

West Virginians woke up in 2014 on Monday when they read the headline, "Capito to run for Rockefeller's seat" in their Daily Mail.

The general managers at TV stations in the state celebrated Christmas early.

Dancing in their heads are visions of attack ads in both the Senate race as well as the race for the seat she holds in the U.S. House.

Political consultants also will be circling the state like buzzards looking for a landing spot in either race.

This likely will be the most expensive political campaign in state history, as is just about any close race for Democrat Sen. Jay Rockefeller.

Rockefeller has won eight times in nine statewide races.

His only loss was in 1972 to Republican Gov. Arch Moore, the father of Rep. Shelley Moore Capito.

If Rockefeller seeks a sixth term, he will not be the first senator in the state to face the offspring of a political opponent, which shows you how long politicians can hold on to power.

In 1964, Sen. Robert C. Byrd defeated Cooper P. Benedict, who received 32.7 percent of the vote.

Eighteen years later, Benedict's son, Cleve, lost to Byrd, receiving 30.8 percent of the vote.

But Capito has better name recognition and a longer record of service in Congress than Cleve Benedict did.

Timing is everything in politics.

The party in power in the White House usually is at a disadvantage in the mid-term elections.

In 1982, Benedict ran with a Republican in the White House in a state that had voted Democratic in 11 of the previous 13 presidential races.

This time, Capito runs with a Democrat in the White House in a state that has voted Republican in the last three consecutive presidential races.

The race will test the power of the anti-coal movement, which Rockefeller overestimated in 1972 when he opposed strip-mining.

After Moore thumped him, Rockefeller saw the light, embraced mining and won seven consecutive statewide races.

But last year, Rockefeller returned to his opposition to strip-mining, which anti-coal interests have re-branded as "mountaintop removal."

The Senate race will spawn a good congressional race to succeed Capito.

The last time the seat was open was when Democrat Bob Wise decided to move on to the Governor's Mansion in 2000.

Democrat James Humphreys, a rich asbestos lawyer, spent $6.1 million of his own money - five times as much as Capito - in that race, which he barely lost.

Two years later, he spent more and lost bigger. Capito has won ever since.

Good candidates will emerge from both parties, but the parties likely will nominate a legislator or former legislator.

Wise and Capito went from the Legislature to Congress. Former House Republican leader David McKinley made the jump to Congress in 2010.

Byrd also used the Legislature to prove himself to voters.

Legislative experience is a pretty good way to develop lawmakers.

History is both on the side of Rockefeller and against him.

West Virginians have not voted out a sitting senator in 54 years, going back to 1958, when Byrd and Democrat Jennings Randolph defeated two Republican incumbents.

Republican Ike Eisenhower was in the White House and it was a mid-term election in the worst recession in over a decade.

Sound familiar?

Don't think Rockefeller doesn't know that. The sound you heard on Monday was Rockefeller breaking open another piggy bank.

I wish I owned a TV station.

Surber may be reached at don



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