The annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner for West Virginia Democrats was underway at the Charleston Civic Center. The state's leading Democrats were rallying the faithful with their best stem-winder speeches.
When it came time for the state's senior Democrat, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, to take the podium, he passed.
Rockefeller, 75, who has suffered through back and knee pain for years, didn't think he could stand on his feet for another half-hour.
When a politician forgoes an opportunity to give a speech before an adoring crowd, you know all is not well.
So when the five-term senator announced Friday that he will not run for re-election in 2014, you heard people say they were not necessarily surprised.
But I suspect there are more reasons than the increasing physical limitations that contributed to Rockefeller's decision. Slowing down causes one to, as Rockefeller said, "recalibrate. . . to find a new balance for the thing I love - public service, and family."
Typically, the most insincere sentiment spoken by retiring politicians is that they want to "spend more time with their family." It's great cover for the real reasons powerful men and women move - or are pushed - from the spotlight.
But I believe Rockefeller.
He and Sharon have four grown children with families of their own and six grandchildren. "They are endlessly supportive and bring such total joy," Rockefeller said, as he looked upon many of those family members in the front row during Friday's announcement.
Interestingly, in a video piece posted on Rockefeller's website just a few days earlier, the senator said he was frustrated with political gridlock in Washington, D.C.
"It seems like many of my colleagues have forgotten how to get along with each other," Rockefeller lamented.