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Could Rockefeller face headwinds in 2014?

In the 2014 election, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia will be a five-term Democratic incumbent with an estimated wealth of over $80 million.    

Life is good.

Yet Rockefeller has reason to be at least concerned about his chances, should he decide to run for re-election.

A Public Policy Poll out this week shows Rockefeller with a 45 percent approval rating.   

That's not bad considering the approval rating for Congress as a whole is in the teens or lower, depending on the poll.

But PPP also found that 42 percent of voters disapprove of him.

"Out of 87 current senators PPP's done polls on, that puts him in a tie for 60th in popularity," said PPP.

The poll also found Rockefeller lagging with crossover support from Independents and Republicans when compared with Sen. Joe Manchin.

PPP says that sets up Rockefeller as the more vulnerable of the two.

"Joe Manchin might be one of the most popular senators in the country, but his senior colleague Jay Rockefeller doesn't have nearly his level of support with West Virginia voters," said PPP.

Rockefeller has a few other things going against him.

He'll be 77 in 2014.

That's not all that old by today's standards, but some voters will do the math. Re-election would make Rockefeller 83 by the end of his term.

Rockefeller supported President Obama in 2008, and Obama is very unpopular in West Virginia.

The president's approval rating in West Virginia is just 32 percent, while 62 percent of voters disapprove of him.

If Rockefeller supports Obama in 2012 and Obama wins, it could cost Rockefeller and other Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections if the economy does not improve and the president remains unpopular in West Virginia.

Interestingly, re-election might be easier for Rockefeller if Obama loses next year.

Rockefeller won re-election easily in 2008 over Republican Jay Wolfe with 64 percent of the vote.

But it was a big Democratic year and Wolfe was a little known and underfunded opponent.

A more formidable Republican could give a much closer race in 2014, especially if a Democratic purge is still underway.

Of course, Rockefeller still has a lot going for him.

You don't serve as long as Rockefeller has and not accumulate some diehard party support.

Rockefeller may not be Robert Byrd in terms of inspiring straight-ticket voters, but there are loyal Dems who would pass on Obama and make sure they voted for Rockefeller.

Rockefeller's considerable wealth is often cited as a deterrent to opponents, but Rockefeller stopped spending his own money several elections ago.

He was taking too much heat from critics who accused him of "buying" elections. But as a veteran senator and the favorite to win re-election, he will have no problem raising money.

2014 is a long way off. Lots can happen, lots will happen before the election.

Today's poll numbers are just a snapshot of the moment.  

Finally, Rockefeller may not have a significant opponent. One of the challenges of the Republican Party in West Virginia has been coming up with viable candidates.

Shelley Moore Capito's name comes up frequently, but she hasn't made her plans known yet. Rockefeller could get a pass in 2014.

PPP's Tom Jensen believes the GOP could skip the Manchin race in 2012 and look at the Rockefeller race two years later.

"If Republicans want to pick up a Senate seat in West Virginia, it looks like they'll have a much better chance in 2014, whether Rockefeller runs or not, than they have next year."  

So it's good to be Rockefeller, but he would be wise to keep looking over his shoulder while calculating how much the support of President Obama is going to cost him.  

Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The show can be heard locally on WCHS 580 AM.


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