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West Virginia: Democrats Game Out Senate Primary

Sen. Jay Rockefeller is retiring. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Sen. Jay Rockefeller is retiring. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In the days after Sen. Jay Rockefeller announced his retirement, Democrats have been gaming out how a primary to replace him might play out.

The list of names circulating is so long it is mind-numbing. On Friday, both CQ Roll Call and The Charleston Gazette threw a number of new contenders into the mix. The Charleston paper wrote that former Gov. Gaston Caperton is “at the top of the list” of Democratic contenders. Whether he runs will influence the rest of the field, according to the paper.

But some Democrats have wondered whether he has been out of politics for too long — he left office in the late 1990s.

Because this is the first real open-seat Senate race in West Virginia since 1984, it should be expected that so many names have surfaced. But just because names are floating around does not mean they will make it to the ballot, especially when it comes to Democratic Senate primaries. Last cycle, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee made its candidate preferences known in several states and there were very few, if any, competitive Democratic Senate primaries.

So far, Mountain State operatives say the DSCC has not sent any signals.

Democrats who know the state well acknowledge that it is trending away from the party.

A handful explained that West Virginia is 20 years behind the Deep South in moving toward the GOP. The great hope is that Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, who announced her plans to run for Senate in November, will face a serious primary threat from the right.

The other factor influencing the positioning is that Capito will be leaving an open House seat that Democrats say could be competitive. Some of those who are considering Senate races are also weighing a House run in her 2nd district.

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