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Nov. 6, 1984 - Jay Rockefeller Elected To First U.S. Senate Term
By Heath Harrison
April 21, 2013


U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election, and would leave Congress in 2015 after three decades of serving in Washington, D.C.

West Virginia's senior senator won his first term in 1984, running for the seat being vacated by long-time Democratic Sen. Jennings Randolph.

Rockefeller, the great-grandson of Standard Oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, was born in New York City in 1937. After graduating from Harvard in 1961, he served in the Philippines as operations director for the Peace Corps' overseas program.

In 1964, he moved to Emmons, W.Va., to work in public service with the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program.

Rockefeller won election to the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1966, representing Kanawha County. He ran successfully for West Virginia secretary of state in 1968, serving until 1973. Unlike most members of his famous family, Rockefeller made his political home in the Democratic Party.

In 1972, he ran for governor, but was defeated in the general election by Republican Arch Moore.

Rockefeller again ran for the office in 1976 and was elected to his first of two terms.

The U.S. recession of the early 1980s and an economic downturn in the state led to high unemployment during his second term as governor. Combined with a strong Republican ticket at the national and local level that year, Rockefeller’s move to the Senate was not as easy as some had originally anticipated.

Rockefeller was challenged in the 1984 U.S. Senate race by Republican political newcomer John Raese, the millionaire heir to the Greer Industries fortune.

Raese, who was 34 at the time, ran an aggressive campaign and quickly pulled even with Rockefeller in the polls leading into the general election.

The race drew several prominent names to the state, including the Democratic Party's 1984 presidential nominee former Vice President Walter Mondale, who campaigned with Rockefeller. Raese enjoyed campaign support from South Carolina's Dixiecrat-turned Republican U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond.

The race went down to the wire, and exit polls on Election Day showed Raese slightly ahead, causing many national observers to expect an upset in usually Democratic West Virginia that night.

While Ronald Reagan carried the state in his landslide presidential victory and Arch Moore won the Governor's Mansion, the Republican wins did not carry over to the Senate race and Rockefeller defeated Raese, 51.8 to 47.7 percent.

Rockefeller would go on to be re-elected four more times by large margins and never faced a competitive race for the seat again. During his time in the Senate, he has served as chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

Among his more notable accomplishments during his Senate time are helping to lure Toyota to build a manufacturing plant in West Virginia and his work on health care reform, which became his signature issue.

Raese would go on to mount three more campaigns for U.S. Senate and one for governor - none of which were successful. He is probably best-known outside of electoral politics for his media ownership, including the West Virginia Metro News network.

This week’s video features a few vintage WCHS reports from the 1984 race. The first (with slight video glitch) contains coverage of the Rockefeller-Raese debate. Next, we see a piece on campaign workers from that year, featuring some of the memorabilia for the candidates. There are two reports featuring rallies for the candidates, including Mondale and Thurmond’s visits. And finally, we see the post-election victory report featuring Rockefeller.

Remember When: Nov. 6, 1984 - Jay Rockefeller Elected To First U.S. Senate Term

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