A few weeks after the 2012 elections, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) set a short-term goal: keep 2014 retirements within his caucus to a minimum. In particular, Reid's attention was focused on Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).
In this case, Reid's arm-twisting came up short.
Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the scion of the Rockefeller family who established himself as a liberal voice in Congress, said on Friday that he would retire in 2014 at the completion of his fifth term in the Senate. [...]
The decision was not a surprise. In June, Mr. Rockefeller took to the Senate floor to oppose Republican efforts to block a regulation on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, declaring, "The coal industry today would rather attack false enemies and deny real problems than find solutions." The speech was greeted with shock in coal-dependent West Virginia and led immediately to speculation that he would not seek a sixth term in 2014.
Looking ahead, Rockefeller's retirement sets the stage for a very interesting contest next year. Ed Kilgore makes the case that the "landscape is unfavorable" to Senate Democrats in 2014, and that's certainly true, especially given dreadful Democratic voter-turnout rates in midterms.
It's worth noting, however, that West Virginia is fairly unique in this respect: President Obama is remarkably unpopular in the state, losing literally every West Virginia county in 2012, which skews the midterm model. Dems arguably have a slightly better shot at keeping the seat in 2014 with fewer conservative voters motivated to head to the polls to vote against the president.
Indeed, rumor has it Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) is letting folks know he's interested in running, which he wouldn't do if he thought the race was hopeless.
Complicating matters, the picture for Republicans is not as straightforward as it might seem.
About a month ago, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) announced she's running for the Senate, whether Rockefeller retired or not, which came as a great relief to the Republican establishment who rightfully sees her as the best GOP candidate in the state.
On day one of her candidacy, Capito received criticism from two conservative groups known for mounting primary challenges against establishment-backed Republicans: the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund, a group founded by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).
Chris Chocola, president of the Club, slammed her as an "establishment candidate," and Senate Conservatives Fund executive director Matt Hoskins said the group wouldn't endorse her.
For the record, Capito is pro-choice, she voted for S-CHIP, and she's voted to extend unemployment benefits, so some on the right are prepared to veto her candidacy, despite her otherwise-conservative credentials and strong poll numbers. Ideological purity, after all, comes at a high price.
Keep an eye on this one. West Virginia is likely to be one of the most important races of 2014.