WHEELING - West Virginia Democrat Party Chairman Larry Puccio says there are two Democrat candidates interested in seeking West Virginia's Senate seat on the ballot in 2014, and he expects at least one of them will soon make an announcement.
Puccio's comments came following reports that an expected Democrat candidate - Ralph Baxter, chairman and chief executive officer of the Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe international law firm - would not be running in 2014.
Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito announced in November she would seek the seat being vacated by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who is not seeking re-election. But so far no Democrats have announced in the race.
Earlier this year, Baxter, 60, indicated interest in the Senate seat. He will step down at Orrick at the end of December, at which time he plans to settle down in the home he purchased in the Woodsdale area of Wheeling.
"It is my understanding now he (Baxter) is not running," Puccio said Friday.
Calls to Baxter's office Friday revealed he was traveling by airplane throughout the day, and he did not immediately return calls or emails seeking comment. But published reports state Baxter said he intends to focus on family rather than a run for the Senate.
Puccio said Democrats do have candidates ready to jump into the race.
"All along, we've had a few people who have shown interest," he said. "They have not come out and made an announcement. I think they are doing their homework and doing what they need to do.
"There are at least two candidates who are interested, and I think we will see one or the other do it," he added. "I do think we will hear an announcement soon."
While Puccio wouldn't name the candidates considering a Senate run next year, a recent poll by Mark Blankenship Enterprises indicates Democrat voters in West Virginia want Capito to have female opposition from either West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant or Supreme Court Justice Robin Jean Davis.
A total of 406 "likely Democrat" voters were polled in early May, and 40 percent responded they would vote for Tennant in a Democrat primary election for the Senate seat, the results indicated. Davis captured 12 percent support in the poll, while Baxter and Charleston lawyer Nick Preservati each received 1 percent.
Respondents were 38 percent "undecided" in the poll, and another 8 percent had "no opinion."
Neither Tennant nor Davis is up for re-election in 2014, and both could run for the Senate without giving up their present elected office.
Neither could be reached for comment Friday evening.