John King of CNN set off a minor furor in West Virginia politics Sunday when he reported that 3rd District Congressman Nick Rahall was considering retiring.
The veteran Democratic Congressman “was about to retire a couple of weeks ago,” King said on CNN’s Inside Politics. “And the leadership convinced him not to do that. And they promised him there’d be more money coming in.”
When I spoke to the congressman’s office on Monday morning, they said that was news to them.
“He has been committed to running for re-election from the moment he announced his candidacy,” spokeswoman Diane Luensmann said. “Nothing has changed in the interim.”
The GOP, which is all in on Rahall’s Republican challenger, state Senator Evan Jenkins, seized on the report.
“It’s clear he (Rahall) doesn’t want or need to be there,” said West Virginia Republican Chairman Conrad Lucas in a news release. “These reports from CNN make clear the rumors we have heard for months.”
A Rahall confidant I spoke with said they don’t know why the rumors have persisted, because the congressman has no intention of bowing out of the race. However, there’s no doubt Rahall would like more help from the Democratic Party.
Last month the Washington Post reported conservative groups, led by the Chamber of Commerce, the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity and the American Energy Alliance had already spent $1.4 million in WV-3 attacking Rahall. Meanwhile, the Democrat House Majority PAC had spent only $160,000.
The Rothenberg Political Report is the latest non-partisan political publication to move Rahall-Jenkins into the toss-up category.
“The congressman is facing a re-election race like he’s never faced before,” Deputy Editor Nathan Gonzales said on Metronews Talkline Monday. “It’s going to be quite ugly.”
Historically, Rahall hasn’t needed help with his re-election. He’s only had a couple of close races since he was first elected to Congress in 1976. But never during his tenure has there been such a convergence of forces to threaten his re-election, led by the unpopularity of President Obama in the state.
That has forced Rahall to distance himself as far as he can from the President.
“I probably have supported George Bush more than I have Barack Obama,” Rahall told The Hill newspaper last month. However, the Tampa Bay Times PolitiFact.com checked the voting record with Congressional Quarterly and rated that claim as false.
“According to Congressional Quarterly, his average voting support for Obama has been 74 percent, compared to just 31 percent for George W. Bush,” the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Rahall’s best hope is to get voters to focus on him, not on Obama, and to hope that when voters learn more about Jenkins, they will be less willing to make a change. To do that, he’ll need to match the outside help Jenkins is receiving.
If the Democratic Party cannot or will not step up, the voters of the 3rd District will make Rahall’s retirement decision for him.
Kercheval is host of Talkline, broadcast statewide by the Metronews Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon weekdays. Listen locally on WCHS 580 AM.