Democrats Hope to Re-Take WV-03
Richard Ojeda (D), a freshman member of the West Virginia Senate (pictured right), hopes to succeed outgoing Representative Evan Jenkins (R) in West Virginia’s third congressional district.
“We deserve better,” said Ojeda in an interview with Graffiti. The people of the third district “built this nation with the steel that came from our coal, yet we have horrible roads, [the] lowest paid teachers and corrections officers in America, inadequate water and sewer, and no broadband and cell service in the majority of our areas.”
Jenkins, a former Democrat, is leaving the seat to compete in the Republican primary to face United States Senator Joe Manchin, III (D).
Ojeda believes 2018 will be a good year for Democrats not just in West Virginia, but across the country.
“I think we should pick up seats because the Republicans at all levels have not followed through with their promises,” he said. He also stressed the need for Democrats to listen to their constituents and focus on achieving legislative promises.
Ojeda pointed to his ability, as a freshman member of the minority party, to pass medical marijuana legislation in the state senate as proof of his desire to listen to his constituents and then follow through with campaign promises.
Lacey Connelly, the executive director of the West Virginia Young Democrats, agrees with Ojeda’s assessment of potential Democratic gains in 2018.
“The Democratic Party absolutely plans to give the Republicans a run for their money, not only in this district, but in all three. Congressional district 3 is a working class district that desperately needs economic investment; their voters have been the foundation of the Democratic Party for decades.”
Ojeda plans to be as visible as possible during the campaign.
“I love campaigning,” he said. “I love when I go to areas where people say ‘I’ve never seen a politician up in these parts.'”
Jenkins defeated 38-year incumbent Nick Joe Rahall in 2014, a universally bad year for Democrats, but Ojeda believes Jenkins hasn’t followed through for southern West Virginia.
“What has he really done?” Ojeda asked in regards to the incumbent Jenkins. “I don’t see anything other than photo ops.”
Ojeda challenged Rahall himself, that same year, in the Democratic primary, but fell short with 34 percent of the vote.
Connelly believes young voters are in a strong position to move change in the coming election cycle.
“It’s not just the power of their vote,” she said. “If young people actively seek ways to invest their time in the political process-knocking doors, making phone calls, talking to their friends vs. arguing on Facebook-we can bring other voters with us. And the message that we need to send is that we want politicians in office who are looking forward, not back.”
The third congressional district stretches across the southern part of the state and includes Huntington, Bluefield, and Beckley.
Rahall held the seat from 1977 until his defeat by Jenkins in 2014. From 1972 until 1992, the seat was numbered the fourth congressional district, but a declining population cost West Virginia a seat and it was re-apportioned the third.
No other Democrats have yet launched campaigns for the seat. Two Republicans, former WV Delegate Rick Snuffer, and Delegate Rupie Phillips, Jr., a former Democrat, have both launched campaigns.
H. S. Leigh Koonce is a sixth-generation West Virginian. He writes from Jefferson County.