West Virginia: Former Byrd Aide Is Late 2nd District Replacement
House Democrats lost one of their most touted recruits of the cycle when state Sen. John Unger opted out of the 2nd district race on Saturday, the last day to file for office in the Mountain State.
But they were quick to talk up the woman who hastily jumped into the race at the last minute, Anne Barth, a former top aide to Sen. Robert Byrd (D).
In statements to local papers, Unger cited a broken political process and a host of problems facing West Virginians — from the lack of affordable health care to the high cost of energy — as the reasons why he chose not to run for Congress.
“I believe it is more beneficial for me to focus my attention on working closely with the people of West Virginia to find solutions to these problems, rather than spend the next 10 months campaigning for Congress,” Unger told The (Martinsburg) Journal.
Unger had raised more than $150,000 for his race in the Republican-leaning district, where President Bush won 57 percent of the vote in 2004.
Republicans saw the announcement as a signal of just how strong four-term Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) is in a district where Democrats repeatedly have tried and failed to knock her off.
“This is a major recruiting failure by the Democrats,” said National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Julie Shutley. “It looks like Mr. Unger took a realistic look at this race, and decided it was too steep of a climb. Rep. Capito is a strong, independent voice for the people of West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional district and will be re-elected in November.”
Late last year, the DCCC had included Capito’s 2nd district seat on a list of 40 Republican-held seats it was targeting for the 2008 cycle. According to Democratic sources, there had been some talk about recruiting Barth — who had served as a state director for Byrd — last summer before Unger caught the eye of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) was quick to praise Barth’s abilities in a statement released Sunday.
“Anne Barth is an A-plus candidate with unparalleled experience and support from West Virginians,” Van Hollen said. “Her strength, vision, and ability to get things done for hardworking West Virginians will make her a powerful voice for change. Anne is the best possible candidate to win this seat and bring change for the people of the district.”
Byrd gave Barth his whole-hearted support, and the other Democrats in the delegation endorsed her Monday.
“No person is more talented, experienced or qualified than Anne Barth to step into that role and hit the ground running,” Byrd said. “Through our many years of service together she has earned my faith, trust and confidence.”
— John McArdle