Changing Times

04.18.14

Senior Democrat Nick Rahall Faces Tough Re-Election Fight

After 38 years in Congress, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) is facing his toughest race yet and could join a number of longtime members in leaving Congress next year.

Nick Rahall has been representing the heart of coal country in southern West Virginia since 1977 but he might not for much longer.

The 19-term Democratic incumbent, who chaired the House National Resources Committee from 2007-2011 and would be in line to take over the powerful Transportation and Infrastructure Committee if Democrats somehow manage to take back control of the House in 2014, is in the congressional race of his life.

According to Politico Rahall now “trails significantly” his Republican opponent, State Senator Evan Jenkins and the incumbent wasn’t included in a long list of ad reservations announced by the Democratic superPAC, House Majority PAC, although the group has been spending heavily on his behalf. In addition, it seems that there will still be money earmarked for Rahall from DCCC. As  first reported by John King on CNN, the West Virginia congressman was talked out of retirement by Democratic leadership in exchange for a guarantee of more campaign cash.

His tough campaign marks a turning point in Congress where an increasing number of veteran members aren’t returning next year.  Already four of the ten most senior members of the House are retiring, including John Dingell (D-MI), the longest serving congressman in history, and two others, Charlie Rangel (D-NY) and Ralph Hall (R-TX) face bruising primary fights.

There still are six months to go until Election Day and Rahall is trying to separate himself from Barack Obama in a district where the President is deeply unpopular and traditionally Democratic voters have long since switched the GOP in most federal elections. As a longtime incumbent, Rahall can rely on a high level of name id and support from voters who have been casting their ballots for him since the Carter Administration.  But in a district that is rapidly becoming more conservative, even if Rahall wins re-election this year it’s not likely that the 38-year veteran of Capitol Hill will be around too much longer.