Long-time West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., announced Friday that he will not run for re-election in 2014, potentially opening the seat to Republicans.
"As I approach 50 years of public service in West Virginia, I've decided that 2014 will be the right moment for me to find new ways to fight for the causes I believe in and to spend more time with my incredible family," Rockefeller said in a statement.
He added, "For the next two years in the Senate, and well beyond, I will continue working tirelessly on behalf of all West Virginians. Championing those most in need has been my life's calling, and I will never stop fighting to make a difference for the people who mean so much to me."
Rockefeller indicated that defending safety-net programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security would be among his priorities for the rest of his term.
The West Virginia Democrat also said he would use his position as Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee to secure the future of the E-Rate program, which has increased the number of classrooms connected to the Internet from 14 to 92 percent.
Rockefeller, the great-grandson of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, also said he would continue to fight to close the historic income divide that continues to weigh heavily on the country.
The decision could make West Virginia a strong pickup opportunity for Republicans, as Rockefeller had already been expected to face a tough re-election fight.
While West Virginia has not elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate since 1956, the state has voted for the GOP presidential candidate in each of the last three elections.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., had already announced that she planned to run for the seat, although she could face Republican primary opposition.
However, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Col., Chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said he is confident an "independent-minded Democrat" can be elected to Rockefeller's seat.
"Democrats maintain nearly a two to one voter registration advantage over Republicans in West Virginia and I know there are a number of leaders there who will consider taking this next step to serve their state," Bennet said.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., recently won election to a full term in the Senate by a wide margin, although he was previously a popular governor and breaks with the Democratic Party on some key issues.
by RTT Staff Writer
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