Breaking: Jay Rockefeller to retire in 2014

It didn’t take long for the first retirement of the 2014 election cycle to occur.  Jay Rockefeller, who has won five Senate elections in West Virginia but seen his state turn deeply conservative, will announce today that 30 years is enough:

Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller will not run for reelection in 2014, passing up a bid for a sixth term and putting in play a Senate seat in deep red West Virginia.

In an interview with POLITICO, Rockefeller — the chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and one of the most senior Senate Democrats — said he had been wrestling with the question of whether to run again since October but had not made up his mind to retire until very recently.

“I’m going to serve out my term,” the 75-year-old Rockefeller said. “It was a very hard decision for me. Once it’s made, like any hard decision, it eases up. But it was a very tough decision for me.”

Rockefeller is scheduled to make a formal announcement at 11 a.m. back home in West Virginia.

Rockefeller said he decided to go public with his retirement now — one that is sure to shake up the 2014 Senate landscape — because it felt like the right move and because he didn’t want months of public speculation over his political future.

Just a few hours earlier, Roll Call wrote a lengthy analysis that explains why Rockefeller decided to retire at the relatively young age of 75 … at least in the Senate:

Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s close ties to President Barack Obama could end his Senate career — should the West Virginia Democrat choose to run for re-election in 2014.

Rockefeller hasn’t had a close race in 30 years. But his strong support for Obama’s agenda in a state where the president remains deeply unpopular, combined with Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito’s decision to run for Senate, could prove enough to undermine the political career of a Democratic icon who has endured even as West Virginia has grown more and more conservative.

“There’s been no doubt on his absolute support of Barack Obama,” West Virginia GOP Chairman Conrad Lucas said, explaining why this race would be different from previous Republican Senate bids.

Rockefeller won his first Senate contest in 1984 with 52 percent of the vote and has won every race since with at least 63 percent. And with a stranglehold on the governor’s mansion and the Legislature, the West Virginia Democratic Party remains more powerful than its Republican counterpart.

But the Mountain State hasn’t voted Democrat for president since 1996, and unlike popular Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, a recent former governor who was first sent to Capitol Hill in 2010, Rockefeller has a long and politically troublesome Washington voting record that Republicans can use against him. He has been a strong supporter of the health care overhaul, to name one major component of Obama’s agenda derided by West Virginians.

It would be different because of the competition, too.  Moore Capito has a lot more experience in running for office in West Virginia than previous candidates.  She may not be a Tea Party darling — at least not yet — but she has been an effective campaigner in the state.  It certainly seems to have provided the impetus to drive Rockefeller into retirement in a state that kept re-electing Robert Byrd even when it became clear he wasn’t up to the task.

This may not be all bad news for the White House, however.  They were likely to lose the seat in the midterms, and it’s probably certain now that they will.  But this means that Rockefeller doesn’t have to spend the next two years looking over his shoulder and shifting to the right to protect his seat.  For the next two years, Rockefeller can vote without any accountability to the more conservative voters in West Virginia.  The good news for Republicans won’t come until 2015 at the earliest.