But Rockefeller, too, had seemingly moved away from the political mainstream in his home state. Back in June, we took note of some extremely unusual remarks Rockefeller made on the Senate floor, castigating the coal industry for engaging in scare tactics over any attempts to regulate it. At the time, it seemed like a potential signal that Rocky was eyeing the exits—after all, you don't go after Big Coal when you're up against a very competitive race in a state where the demographics are racing away from you.
Whether that speech was a tell or not, GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito's early entry into the contest back in November certainly raised the stakes for Rockefeller, given that she's unquestionably the strongest Republican candidate in the state. In response to Capito's move, Rockefeller sounded pretty unenthusiastic about saddling up for still one more race, so Friday's news was not unexpected.
The real question, of course, is what Democrats do next. Despite West Virginia's move to the right, there's still a strong Democratic bench. What's more, given Rockefeller's attacks on coal (as well as his lack of fire in the belly), this could be a rare situation where Dems might be better off with a replacement instead of the incumbent. No matter what, though, you can bet that DSCC chair Michael Bennet is on the horn with potential recruits right now. Possible names include:
• WV-03 Rep. Nick Rahall, who's already said he's interested and may be looking for an escape hatch considering he won re-election by just 54 percent last year;
• state House Speaker Rick Thompson, who unsuccessfully sought the Dem nomination for governor in 2011;
• Secretary of State Natalie Tennant (same);
• ex-Gov. Bob Wise;
• Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis;
• ex-state party chair Mike Callaghan, who has also expressed interest;
• and perhaps even current Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, though thanks to a special election, he had to run back-to-back races in 2011 and 2012 and may be ready for a breather.
Undoubtedly we'll hear a lot more on this front in the coming weeks. And note that if Rahall were to jump in, that would create an open seat in his 3rd Congressional District, which would be an extremely tough hold for Democrats given how red it is (it went for Romney 65-33). Moore Capito's House seat is, of course, also open, meaning we could see a lot of action in West Virginia this cycle—and we'll be there to cover it all.