A longtime House Democrat in electoral jeopardy this fall says he supported former President George W. Bush more than President Obama.
Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), first elected in 1976, is a top target of Republicans in a state where Obama has long been deeply unpopular. He is facing a state senator, Evan Jenkins, who switched to the GOP to challenge him, and the House Democratic campaign committee recently added him to its “Frontline” list of members that need the most help saving their seat in November.
“There’s no question my critics try to blame Obama-Rahall for everything,” Rahall told The Hill. “I mean, the snow blitz that’s coming tonight is probably Obama-Rahall’s fault. And they won’t have that to do two years from now, so it’s obvious they’re leaving no stone unturned to defeat me this time. Because it’s the last time they’ll have Obama around! It’s that simple.”
Obama’s national approval rating fell to the lowest of his presidency, 41 percent, in an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday. In West Virginia, however, it is much lower. A Gallup study released in January found that during 2013, an average of just 25 percent of West Virginians approved of the president’s performance.
Rahall acknowledged that Obama was deeply unpopular in his district, and he quickly ticked off a half dozen policies where the two have disagreed: coal, trade, immigration, abortion, gun control and the conduct of Attorney General Eric Holder, who Rahall voted to hold in contempt. “That’s just off the top of my head,” he said.
“I will support him when he’s good for West Virginia, and I will oppose him when he’s bad for West Virginia,” Rahall said.
Asked if Obama had been good for West Virginia overall, he replied, “Probably not.”
“I probably have supported George Bush more than I have Barack Obama,” Rahall said. “Am I going to switch parties because of that? No. I’m a Democrat, born a Democrat, am a Democrat and will die a Democrat.”
Rahall spoke a day after Democrats lost a hard-fought special election race in Florida that centered on the president’s policies and the healthcare law.
He downplayed the significance of the result, saying it did not impact how he would run his race this fall.
On ObamaCare, Rahall said he has called on Republicans to work with Democrats to fix it without demanding its outright repeal.
“I don’t think I need to call for more fixes,” he said. “I think I need to call for more bipartisanship from the other side, instead of just repeal, repeal, repeal. Because that’s not going to fix anything.
“I have always said in my 38 years here I have never seen a perfect law, and the [Affordable Care Act] is not a perfect law. But it’s not going to be repealed. Not now. Not never. So let’s face reality, my friends, and let’s try to work together to fix it," Rahall added.
Jenkins on Tuesday highlighted a GOP poll showing him with a 14-point lead over Rahall, 54 percent to 40 percent. Rahall laughed it off. “My poll does not show that, I guarantee you,” he said, without specifying numbers.
He pointed to outside conservative groups that have targeted him with ads and said voters are “getting tired” of the negative commercials. Help from Democratic fund-raisers in Washington, he said, is on its way. “Because of the tactics being employed by the other side, that is coming hand over fist every day now,” Rahall said.
The National Republican Congressional Committee dismissed Rahall’s bid to distance himself from Obama, citing his support for Democratic budget proposals and the original healthcare law in 2010.
“If Nick Rahall is looking to blame someone for his problems he should look in the mirror,” NRCC spokesman Ian Prior said. “His support of Obama certainly isn’t going to help him, but its Rahall’s own record of voting against West Virginia’s economic interests that is going to sink him in November.”