CHARLESTON, W.Va. U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who arrived in West Virginia as a young man from one of the world’s richest families to work on antipoverty programs and remained in the state to build a political legacy, announced Friday that he will not seek a sixth term.
The 75-year-old Democrat’s decision, coming at a time when his popularity in a conservative state had been waning for sparring with the powerful mining industry and supporting President Barack Obama, said ahead of his formal announcement that it was time to retire.
After about three decades in elective office, it was time to “bring more balance to my life after a career that has been so obsessively dominated by politics and public policy and campaigns,” he said. “I’ve gotten way out of whack in terms of the time I should spend with my wife and my children and my grandchildren.”
Rockefeller’s decision will set off a scramble for a seat held by Democrats since 1958. Within weeks of November’s elections, Republican U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito vowed to run for the Senate seat in 2014, even if it meant going up against Rockefeller and his storied name. Other Republicans also have been eyeing the seat in recent weeks.
Rockefeller said Capito’s announcement did not influence his decision. Willing to devote millions of his personal wealth toward his campaigns — including several against Capito’s father, ex-Gov. Arch Moore — the senator said he believes he would have prevailed over the seven-term congresswoman.
The great-grandson of famed industrialist John D. Rockefeller first arrived in West Virginia as a volunteer with the VISTA national service program in 1964. Within two years, he had won election to the Legislature, and then as secretary of state in 1968. After a failed run for governor in 1972 and four years as president of West Virginia Wesleyan College, Rockefeller won his first term as governor in 1976.
Toward the end of his second term, he narrowly captured the U.S. Senate seat of a retiring Jennings Randolph in 1984. He won by comfortable margins in each of his five terms.
Rockefeller hails from a family of many achievers: In addition to the successes of his oil billionaire great-grandfather, two uncles, Nelson Rockefeller and Winthrop Rockefeller, served as governors of New York and Arkansas, respectively. Rockefeller’s father, John D. Rockefeller III, was a well-known philanthropist and founded the Asia Society, while his uncle David Rockefeller ran Chase Manhattan Bank.