Republican Evan Jenkins on Tuesday beat longtime incumbent U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., for the state's 3rd Congressional District seat, the Associated Press said. The district was southern West Virginia’s remaining Democratic stronghold, with Rahall, first elected in 1976, serving as the only House Democrat from the state.
Jenkins, 54, was elected as a member of the state House in 1994 and to the state Senate in 2002. He switched from Democrat to Republican in 2013, specifically to run against Rahall, painting him as an ally of Obama, and ran unopposed in the Republican primaries. “These last number of years he has been a foot soldier for the Obama-Pelosi agenda that’s devastating jobs in out state,” Jenkins said to the Associated Press in October, referring to House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
While Rahall was critical of President Barack Obama, especially on the vital issue of coal, Republicans argued that he hadn’t done enough. The president has proposed massive cuts to emissions, targeting coal-fired power plants, in a move that is massively unpopular in the Mountain State where the coal industry was already struggling under economic and environmental concerns. While Obama’s approval rate was low around the country, in West Virginia just 25 percent supported his performance last year.
Rahall's district has many coalfields, and in recent years he has become a top Republican target. In March, the House Democratic campaign committee added him to its “Frontline” program defending endangered incumbents. “Republicans have really turned the anger at Obama and the coal issue into an organizing principle,” Rahall told the New York Times in October.
Rahall spent a total of $5,466,003 on his campaign in 2014, while Jenkins spent $4,842,780, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Of all supporters, the National Republican Congressional Committee spent the most, with $3,057,844.