SATURDAY night was a defining moment for West Virginia's Democratic Party.
Yes, all 1,700 Democrats (a record crowd) at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Charleston already knew that Senator Jay Rockefeller was retiring.
Sending him off with hosannas and platitudes — including those delivered by Vice President Joe Biden — was appropriate.
But seeing the aging Rockefeller — he's 76 — on stage with all his family, supporting himself with a cane, was also a stark reminder that the long-dominant Democratic Party in West Virginia is losing another substantial vote-getter.
Starting in the late 1950s, the state Democratic Party could always count on three significant advantages over Republicans: voter registration, Robert Byrd, Jennings Randolph or Jay Rockefeller as ticket-leaders in U.S. Senate races and support for the Democratic presidential nominee.
The down ballot benefits for Democrats have been consequential, as the party dominated local and regional races. However, the state has undergone a significant transition in recent years.
The first evidence was the state's choice of George Bush over Al Gore in 2000. West Virginia has gone red in every presidential race since.
That was followed by the death of Senator Byrd and now the retirement of Rockefeller. Both men won every election (except Rockefeller's first run for governor in 1972), often by virtual acclamation with only token opposition.
Still, having Byrd and Rockefeller on the ballot helped bring out Democratic voters, providing a decided advantage to down ballot Democrats.