Years of political logjam at the top of the Democratic Party in West Virginia blocked potential candidates from pursuing a prized Senate seat. Over the last half century, Rockefeller ascended only after Randolph retired, and Manchin moved up only after Byrd died.
Meanwhile, aspiring Democratic candidates settled in down-ballot where they grew accustomed to automatic nominations and benefited from popular vote-getters at the top of the ticket.
Party leaders say there's still plenty of time to find someone to take on Republican Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito for Rockefeller's seat.
But time is not the issue yet. The bigger problem is that the pool of potential candidates is getting smaller by the week.
Democratic leaders in West Virginia and in Washington are holding out hope that Secretary of State Natalie Tennant will enter the race. Tennant remains non-committal publicly, but is believed to be seriously considering it.
Also, retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Allen Tackett is pondering the possibility of a Senate run. Tackett, who built a statewide reputation as the gung-ho leader of the state's National Guard, was a close friend of Byrd's.
Either could be a viable candidate.
But the prospect of an expensive and high-stakes campaign against a tough, well-financed opponent in a race with national implications is daunting.
The list of potential Democratic candidates who have chosen not to run makes that point abundantly clear.
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.