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A strong GOP candidate in the 3rd District?

Republicans, eager to find a credible candidate to run against longtime incumbent Democrat Nick Rahall in the 3rd congressional District in 2014, are lobbying Democratic state Sen. Evan Jenkins to switch parties and join the race.

Jenkins has represented the 5th district - Cabell County and a portion of Wayne County - in the state Senate since 2002, and before that he served three terms in the House of Delegates.

He is up for re-election in 2014 and is clearly keeping his options open, even if that means returning to the Republican Party, to which he belonged briefly after he graduated from law school.

"I've been recruited to seek a judgeship, to run for re-election, and I've been contacted by folks across the political spectrum about what I may or may not run for," Jenkins said cryptically, careful to keep the congressional option open.

The national Republican Party has targeted Rahall for defeat in 2014, but has so far had no luck in landing a viable candidate. The best hope to date, Republican state Sen. Bill Cole, decided against it.

Republican strategists say Jenkins would be a formidable candidate, despite the difficulty that goes along with switching parties.

They believe Jenkins could justify the move because of the current Democratic leadership in Washington.

President Obama is unpopular in West Virginia, and the Obama administration's hostility toward the coal industry has made it difficult for moderate Democrats here, particularly in the southern West Virginia coalfields.

In the last election, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Sen. Joe Manchin both distanced themselves from Obama.

Jenkins leans conservative and pro-business, making him more closely aligned with the GOP than the Democratic Party at the federal level.

He has joined the chorus of those speaking out against the regulatory environment for the coal industry and he has been an open critic of the Affordable Health Care law.

"I can understand why those most frustrated with what's going on in Washington and the assault on the coal industry are looking to me," Jenkins told me.

Republicans are salivating at the possibility of flipping Jenkins, particularly because he's a deep-rooted Cabell County resident.

Cabell is the most populous county in the 3rd district, and it's historically been solid for Rahall. A Jenkins candidacy could offset that.

The West Virginia Republican Party believes it has momentum going into 2014, especially with Rep. Shelley Moore Capito at the top of the ticket in the race for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Democrat Jay Rockefeller, who is retiring.

A Jenkins conversion would not only add to that momentum, but also give the GOP a viable candidate in the 3rd District.

Look for Jenkins to make a decision pretty quickly.

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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