UPDATE 7/31/13 @ 6:42 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- West Virginia Chamber President Steve Roberts shouted, "Amen!" after the newest member of the West Virginia Republican Party vowed to be a member of Congress to "fight Obama's dangerous agenda, not campaign for it."
Former Democrat Cabell County Sen. Evan Jenkins switched his party affiliation to Republican and is now a candidate for U.S. Congress. Regarding the statement about "Obama's dangerous agenda," Jenkins was referring to incumbent, and now his challenger, U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, who he wants to unseat in 2014.
Rahall has been in the post for nearly 40 years.
Members of the West Virginia GOP are cheering the move. Members of the Democratic Party, though, are questioning Jenkins' loyalty.
The chairman of the State Democratic Party Larry Puccio said in a news release, "when Washington money came a knockin' Jenkins went a walkin'."
"First of all no one in Washington has promised me a penny," Jenkins said.
Jenkins promises to protect West Virginia's 3rd District from the Obama Administration Agenda, one he says is not good for the 3rd District, but also one that Rahall has supported 97 percent of the time.
A spokesperson for Rahall released a statement saying: "Flip flop. How many times is Evan Jenkins going to switch parties?"
Jenkins was a registered Republican once before.
"I think someone who switches parties time after time after time, who is a flip flop flopper, really has no real set of values or beliefs," Rahall said.
Rahall says he's familiar with opponents linking him with President Obama.
"I could go down a half dozen if not a dozen issues on which I disagree with this president," Rahall said. "That doesn't mean I renounce my party."
"I've been beat up a lot on the left of the party and you know what it is time for a change," Jenkins said.
Marshall University Political Science Professor and Department Chair MaryBeth Beller, Ph.D, said this move could open up a dialogue in a state that has been dominated by the Democratic Party.
"West Virginia has a long standing history of being a one-party state," Beller said. "What that meant is that people who are more ideologically aligned with the Republican party often had to register and compete as Democrats in order to win seats."
West Virginia GOP Chairman Conrad Lucas believes Jenkins is just the first politician to take this step.
"With Senator Jenkins announcement today, that opens the floodgates. It gives a lot of folks who didn't want to be the first to make this decision to be public about their views on their own party and our party," Lucas said.
Pollster Mark Blankenship of Mark Blankenship Enterprises says the fact that this campaign is starting early means that Jenkins is serious.
Rahall has the name recognition across the 3rd District that Jenkins does not have yet.
With Democratic support dwindling for President Obama in a state where he only has between a 30 to 35 percent approval rating, the political landscape is a bit different for Rahall this time around.
"This year, what makes the playing field different is that Congressman Rahall certainly has votes of support in Congress for President Obama and parts of his agenda that he is going to have to answer for that weren't present in other elections," explained Blankenship.
He went on to say that despite Rahall's proven track record of winning, the incumbent doesn't take any election for granted.
Jenkins switched his party registration on Wednesday and announced that he will seek Democrat Rep. Nick Rahall's 3rd District seat in 2014.
Jenkins says in a news release that he wants to fight what he calls Washington's assault on West Virginia, its residents' freedom and jobs.
Republicans welcomed Jenkins' announcement. But it drew the ire of state Democratic officials.
West Virginia Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas says Jenkins showed courage by changing parties.
West Virginia Democratic Party chairman Larry Puccio says Jenkins is only loyal to what he called "Washington Republican money."
Tuesday night, West Virginia Senate President Jeff Kessler removed Jenkins from his leadership positions in the Senate.
Statement from Congressman Nick Rahall
"Flip-flop. How many times is Evan Jenkins going to switch parties? Not for public service, but for self service. Clearly, this time his new found Republican bosses in Washington have promised him the world. Yet his promises to West Virginians now ring as hollow as his word."
A media advisory issued by Jenkins' campaign says he will change his party registration Wednesday morning at the Cabell County Courthouse.
Afterward, he will hold a news conference at 10:30 a.m. to announce his run against Rahall.
Jenkins was removed from his leadership positions in the West Virginia Senate on Tuesday night. Senate President Jeff Kessler says in a news release that he took the action because Jenkins had refused to dispel rumors that he's switching parties to possibly run for Congress.
“Refusing to dispel rumors that he is switching to the Republican Party in order to possibly run for Congress shows that he has no allegiance to his democratic colleagues or the constituents that elected him,” says Kessler. “I do not want anyone on my leadership team or in a leadership position that does not show decisiveness or loyalty.”
Jenkins was chairman of the Senate's Minority Affairs and Pensions Committee. He also was vice chairman of the Health and Human Resources Committee.
Jenkins represents District 5 which is made up of Cabell and part of Wayne counties.
Jenkins was first elected to the West Virginia Senate in November 2002, according to Project Vote Smart. He has also served in the House of Delegates.
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