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Ratings Change: West Virginia’s 3rd District

Everybody knows “Nicky Joe,” but that doesn’t mean the Democratic congressman is immune to election defeat.

It’s true that Rep. Nick J. Rahall II is somewhat of an institution in southern West Virginia. He’s been in Congress since Jimmy Carter was president, and Republicans have never been able to defeat him. But these are different times.

Mitt Romney carried West Virginia’s 3rd District with 65 percent in 2012, and John McCain won it with 56 percent in 2008. But the presidential numbers dramatically understate Rahall’s appeal in the district. This cycle will put him to the test.

Republicans believe they finally have a top contender in party-switching state Sen. Evan Jenkins. The Republican had nearly $200,000 in campaign funds at the end of September, but more importantly, he should be a candidate worthy of a heavy investment from Republican outside groups later in the year.

Rahall won a nineteenth term in 2012, 54 percent to 46 percent, against Republican Rick Snuffer. The congressman outspent his challenger $1.6 million to $590,000. At least one thing seems certain: Rahall will not voluntarily retire this year. He raised more than $400,000 in the fourth quarter of last year — a large sum for a traditionally slow-starting fundraiser — and the filing deadline is Saturday.

Similar to Minnesota’s 7th District, the Republican lean of the district and a credible GOP challenger makes this a race to watch. We’re moving West Virginia’s 3rd to Lean Democrat from Democrat Favored in the Rothenberg Political Report/CQ Roll Call ratings.

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