Rahall also is the top Democrat on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which divvies up federal money for roads, airports and railroads.
Byrd taught him well.
Nevertheless, Jenkins brings to the race conservative credentials and likely the money he will need to mount a viable challenge.
As executive director of the West Virginia State Medical Association, he should have no trouble raising money from doctors to match the donations a congressional incumbent can attract.
But that very job also poses a problem for Jenkins, as his association with doctors blunts Obamacare as an issue in the race.
While Rahall supported Obamacare, so did the American Medical Association.
Jenkins will have to search high and far for another issue to push voters to make a change in 2014.
Four years ago, another Democrat flipped parties to run against Rahall - former state Supreme Court Justice Spike Maynard.
Maynard lost by 12 points in a year when Republicans had their best showing nationally in the House races in 64 years.
All elections boil down to the challenger making the case for a change.
From Winton Covey in 1980 to Snuffer last year, Rahall has taken on 14 Republican challengers and dispatched them all.
Four times, Republicans did not bother to put up a challenger.
If Jenkins wins the nomination next May, he will have to give the voters of southern West Virginia a reason to change.
That is a huge task.
Surber's email is donsur...@dailymail.com.