Democratic field to replace Rockefeller could be crowded

January 15, 2013

The Democratic race to succeed retiring West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) could be pretty crowded. 

While Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) is the early frontrunner on the GOP side, the state's Democratic bench doesn't have a clear standout. Below is a closer look at some of the potential Democratic candidates watch, in alphabetical order. (Also check out West Virginia radio host and political expert Hoppy Kercheval's recent rundown.)

Rep. Nick Rahall, right, is a potential candidate to watch. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Rep. Nick Rahall, right, is a potential candidate to watch. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

* Ralph Baxter: Baxter, who's donated to Democratic candidates, serves as CEO of of a global law firm. He's a West Virginia native who remains well-connected to the state, serving on the West Virginia Workforce Investment Council and on the Board of Directors of The West Virginia Education Alliance.

* Mike Callaghan: The former state Democratic party chairman said last year that he would be interested in running if Rockefeller retires. But with the threat of Capito looming on the other side, Democrats might want to go in a different direction: Callaghan lost to her in 2006. For his part, Callaghan might also prefer to make another run at Capito's seat in an open race.

* Robin Davis: Davis was recently elected to another 12-year term on the state Supreme Court. The question for her is whether a Senate run is worth giving up a secure position on the state's highest court.

* Carte Goodwin: Goodwin served a brief stint in the Senate back in 2010, when then-Gov. Joe Manchin (D) appointed him to the seat he later won. Goodwin, whose wife is a top aide to Rockefeller, is close with Manchin (he used to be his general counsel), which means a lot, considering the senator's status as the most popular Democrat in the state. His challenge would be money. You don't need a lot of it in West Virginia, but you have to have some. He has to prove he can keep pace. Meanwhile, Kercheval also mentioned Carte's cousin Booth, a U.S. attorney, in his rundown of potentials.

* Jeff Kessler: Kessler is the president of the state Senate and first in gubernatorial line of succession. His connections in the state legislature would make him a candidate to watch, though it's not clear whether he is interested in a Senate bid.

* John Perdue: Perdue, the state treasurer, finished fourth in the 2011 governor's primary. His creative "Big John" ad campaign caught our attention back then, but it wasn't enough to put him over the top. If he runs, Perdue would probably have only an outside shot against higher profile contenders.

* Nick Rahall: Rahall, who is mulling a bid, is the state's only Democratic representative in the House. At the presidential level, Rahall's southernmost district has been on par with the other two, so his ability to win in an area where Republicans have made inroads would make him an attractive option, as would his experience running a federal campaign. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee might not be so thrilled if Rahall runs for the Senate, as it would present Republicans with a potential pickup opportunity in the House.

* Natalie Tennant: The secretary of state said last week that she hadn't "ruled anything in or out." Tennant finished third in the 2011 Democratic governor's primary, so a Senate run would be far from her first statewide rodeo.

Here's a rundown of prominent Democrats who have indicated they won't run:

* Former governor Gaston Caperton

* State House Speaker Rick Thompson

* Former governor Bob Wise

Who did we miss? The comments section awaits your input!

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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