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Switching political parties is not unusual

STATE Sen. Evan Jenkins' switch from the Democratic to the Republican Party to run for Congress has caused a stir.

Angry Democrats have pegged him as an opportunistic turncoat, while Republican leaders are gleeful at having a viable candidate to potentially take on longtime incumbent Nick Rahall.

Party switching by politicians is nothing new.

Teddy Roosevelt left the Republicans and formed his own Bull Moose Party. Ronald Reagan was a Democrat until 1962. Hillary Clinton was a "Goldwater Girl" in 1964.

The late Sen. Arlen Specter left the GOP after 44 years and ran (unsuccessfully) as a Democrat. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg went from Democrat to Republican to Independent.

West Virginia has had party switchers as well. Some have been successful in politics afterward and some

have not. Jay Rockefeller was a New York Republican when in 1964 he came to Emmons, on the Kanawha Boone County line, to work for an anti-poverty program.

Two years later, Rockefeller changed his registration and ran as a Democrat for the House of Delegates in 1966.

Rockefeller went on to win elections for secretary of state, governor (twice) and U.S. Senate (five times).

Rush Holt Sr., was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1934 as a Democrat. The Weston native took a conservative turn during his tenure and lost his re-election in 1940.

Holt went to the GOP in 1949 and ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1950 and governor in 1952.

Finally in 1954, Holt was elected to the House of Delegates as a Republican.

Mingo County attorney Spike Maynard ran on the Democratic ticket and served for years as a circuit judge in his home county.

In 1996, he was elected to the state Supreme Court. After losing his re-nomination in 2008, Maynard became a Republican and ran against Rahall.

He lost 56 percent to 44 percent.

Allen Loughry switched from Independent to Republican in 2011 before his run for the state Supreme Court. Loughry won election to the court in 2012.

Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper started as a Republican, but switched to the Democratic Party in a bitter dispute with Republican Gov. Cecil Underwood over the Charleston Airport.

Since the switch in 1999, he has won re-election every time.

Wyoming County's Daniel Hall lost a House of Delegates race as a Republican in 2006. He turned Democrat and won elections to the House and the state Senate.

Richie Robb served as mayor of South Charleston as a Republican from 1975 until 2007. He even served a term as party chairman.

During the George W. Bush presidency, Robb switched to the Democratic Party because of his opposition to the war in Iraq.

He ran unsuccessfully for his party's nomination for the 2nd District congressional seat in 2008.

Party switches have varying impacts. When done early in life, especially before entering politics, they are less significant.

However, party changes during an election cycle can become a distracting issue.

Jenkins' jump coincides with the start of a congressional campaign, meaning it will be more of a focus for his opponents.

How Jenkins handles the issue will go a long way in determining whether he is viewed by the electorate as a committed conservative who saw the light or a political opportunist.

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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