(Corrects election to 2012 from 2010 in 2nd paragraph)
* Democratic senator faced potentially tough campaign
* West Virginia voters leaning more Republican
By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON, Jan 11 Democratic Senator Jay
Rockefeller announced on Friday that he will not seek a sixth
term in 2014 to represent his home state of West Virginia, which
has been trending more Republican in recent years.
President Barack Obama, a Democrat, failed to win West
Virginia in either of his two races in 2008 and 2012.
Rockefeller, 75, could have faced a spirited race next year,
especially if Republican Representative Shelley Moore Capito
decided to challenge him, as expected.
"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 Charleston,
Rockefeller currently serves as chairman of the Senate
Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which has broad
oversight powers, including the aviation and communications
industries, consumer protection and rail and highway programs.
The liberal Democrat, whose full name is John D. Rockefeller
IV, is the great-grandson of the famous oil tycoon who became a
billionaire in the late 1800s.
Senator Rockefeller has been a strong supporter of organized
labor and was an active participant in healthcare reform
initiatives, including Obama's successful effort in 2010.
The healthcare reform law, which Republicans deride as
"Obamacare," has not been strongly embraced by voters, although
some of its major provisions will not take effect until 2014.
Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political
Report, said Rockefeller's retirement could complicate
Democrats' efforts to keep control of the Senate in 2014.
Gonzales added that West Virginia voters increasingly have
become uncomfortable with the Democratic Party on hot-button
issues such as gun control, gay marriage and abortion.
"There is a cultural tension between West Virginia and the
national Democratic Party," after years of Democratic strength
in the coal-producing state, Gonzales said.
In 2014, Democrats will try to defend 20 Senate seats, while
Republicans have 13 up for grabs. Currently, Democrats hold a
55-45 edge in the Senate when including Bernie Sanders of
Vermont, an independent who often aligns himself with Democrats.
Rockefeller also has been a protector of West Virginia's
coal industry, an important economic force in his impoverished
state. In 2009 and 2010, Rockefeller urged the Senate to take a
careful approach to climate change legislation that would have
aimed to reduce the use of carbon-emitting fossil fuels, such as
coal, over the long-term.
Instead, Rockefeller promoted a system that would have
permanently stored carbon dioxide industrial emissions
underground - a commercially unproven technology.
That legislative effort ultimately sputtered in the Senate.
When Democratic Senator Joe Manchin ran to replace the late
Senator Robert Byrd, a towering political figure in the state,
Manchin ran a campaign video ad showing the candidate taking aim
with a rifle at the "cap and trade" climate bill. The ad
resonated with West Virginia voters.
The Rockefeller name, long associated with vast wealth in
America, also represented a political dynasty.
Senator Rockefeller's uncle, Nelson Rockefeller, was a
moderate Republican who served as governor of New York and vice
president under President Gerald Ford. Another uncle, Winthrop,
was governor of Arkansas, a rural state with deep pockets of
poverty, like West Virginia, where Senator Rockefeller served as
governor before coming to Washington.
It was unclear what Democratic candidates might emerge in
the race for Rockefeller's seat.
One name that could stand out is West Virginia Secretary of
State Natalie Tennant, Gonzales said.
(Editing by Vicki Allen)