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Maybe Rahall should switch parties too

The announcement by state Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, that he has switched parties and will enter the Republican primary next spring in hopes of challenging Rep. Nick Joe Rahall, D-W.Va., in the fall drew national attention.

Jenkins originally was a Republican.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, led the parade in welcoming Jenkins back into the party fold.

From Washington, Jenkins may look like a shoo-in against the 19-term congressman.

"Mitt Romney carried the state by 26.8 percentage points and the district by 32.2 percentage points in 2012," Politico reported.

Those are nice numbers, but the reality is Rahall did better than Obama and easily handled last year's challenge by Delegate Rick Snuffer, R-Raleigh.

Granted the 8-point win was his smallest margin since he beat Republican David Morrill by only four points 22 years ago, but the fact that Rahall has had races that stretch back 37 years shows how daunting the task is for Jenkins.

However, Rahall will not have the albatross of Obama at the top of the ticket in 2014.

Besides, Rahall knows the drill, having learned it from a fellow named Robert C. Byrd.

And Rahall is ready, willing and able to win again.

The 19-term congressman does not take his re-election for granted and is still energetic and young enough - 64 is hardly old on Capitol Hill - to hustle the votes in the hustings.

The Saturday after Jenkins entered the race, Rahall was in Flat Top for the Lilly Reunion because successful politicians go where the votes are.

"While the Lilly Reunion is so big it could put some county fairs to shame, the real strength of the Lilly family isn't about how many show up," Rahall told Mannix Porterfield of the Register-Herald in Beckley.

"No, it's about how deeply your loyalty and love for another run - two prerequisites to being a true West Virginian."

Rahall also stood up for only men and women marrying, vowed to fight for the Second Amendment and supported voluntary prayer in school.

Indeed, Rahall's views were so traditional that maybe he should be the one switching parties.

However, he is not just another conservative-speaking politician.

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.

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