WHEELING - Sen. Jay Rockefeller's announcement Friday that he won't seek re-election in 2014 leaves Democrats a void to fill on the ballot - and a rare opportunity for interested candidates in West Virginia.
Robert Rupp, professor of history at West Virginia Wesleyan College, noted West Virginia has lost the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd after nearly a half-century in office, and Rockefeller - also a Democrat - has served almost 30 years in the Senate.
"Anytime a state loses a senator - especially after 50 years or 30 years - there is a loss in seniority and continuity," Rupp said. "And the state isn't used to losing either one. On the other side, the torch is being passed. Competition is forming, and I think the state will do well."
U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-Charleston, announced in late November that she would run for Senate in 2014, and Rupp said a race between her and Rockefeller "could have been the most balanced and competitive Senate race in the past 30 years." He said both possess political experience and are "nice people."
"The question now is do the Democrats replace the liberal Democratic Sen. Rockefeller with another liberal Democrat, or do they choose a conservative Democrat?" Rupp asked. "It's so novel to have an open seat. I wouldn't be surprised if a number of candidates do come out."
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-Beckley, indicated Friday he might consider a run for Senate in 2014.
"Jay's decision has made it incumbent upon me to recalibrate all my decisions in terms of what is in the best interests of the people of West Virginia," he said.
State Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis was just elected to a third 12-year term on the court and will be sworn in Monday.
"I'm focused on my current position, but I never discount possibilities in terms of my political future," she said. "I will approach my decision as I do everything in life. It will be a logical, rational, well thought out decision based on what is best for West Virginia."
Former state Sen. Ed Bowman said he was not surprised by Rockefeller's decision - but he was surprised by the timing of his announcement.
"He's making this announcement early, and it is my belief he has consulted with others, (including) some he may be wanting to support on the Democratic ticket" as his successor, Bowman said. "He has had a successful political career. But there comes a time in your political career when you reach a point when time with your family is very important to you. I see him spending the rest of his life with his family and grandchildren."
Bowman said there will be "a very open field" for candidates now wanting to serve West Virginia in the Senate. He added he has a great deal of respect for Capito.
"She is a formidable candidate, and whoever challenges her will have a competitive race," Bowman said.