WASHINGTON — Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the scion of the Rockefeller family who became a longtime liberal voice in Congress, announced Friday that he would not seek a sixth term in 2014, providing an opening for Republicans to cut into the Democratic Senate majority.
The decision by Rockefeller, 75, who also served two terms as governor of West Virginia, was no surprise and came after he gave a Senate floor speech in June that angered the state's politically influential coal industry.
He is the first incumbent to announce he will not run in a challenging election cycle for Democrats, who will be defending a seat not only in conservative West Virginia but in Republican-leaning states like Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and Montana.
Had he run, Rockefeller would have faced his stiffest challenge since joining the Senate in 1985. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a seven-term Republican, had announced her intention to challenge Rockefeller.
Speaking in Charleston, W.Va., with his wife, Sharon, at his side, Rockefeller said his decision to retire was not an easy one.
"As I approach 50 years of public service in West Virginia, I've decided that 2014 will be the right moment for me to find new ways to fight for the causes I believe in and to spend more time with my incredible family," said the senator, who is chairman of the Commerce Committee and has played a critical role in fights to expand health care coverage.
Rockefeller is the great-grandson of John D. Rockefeller, the oil tycoon.