Sen. Robert Byrd (D.-W.Va.) underwent a remarkable conversion last month when he suddenly became a constitutionalist conservative and came out for the confirmation of Judge Sam Alito to the Supreme Court. It turns out Byrd was struck down not on the road to Damascus, but on the road to a tough reelection battle.
On January 25, West Virginia media mogul John Raese filed for his state’s Republican Senate primary. Raese, a solid conservative who backed Ronald Reagan’s 1976 presidential bid, nearly defeated Democratic then-Gov. Jay Rockefeller in a 1984 Senate campaign. The day after Raese entered this Senate race, he put out a press release at 12:04 p.m., endorsing Judge Alito’s confirmation, says Raese consultant Keith Appel. At 2:23 p.m. the same day, Byrd issued an endorsement of Alito. Byrd’s statement was a ringing affirmation of judicial conservatism and stinging rebuke of Judiciary Committee Democrats. "Many people, including foremost the people of West Virginia, in no uncertain terms were, frankly, appalled by the Alito hearings," said Byrd. "My considered judgment from his record, from his answers to my questions, and from his obvious intelligence and sincerity, leads me to believe him to be an honorable man, who loves his country, loves his Constitution, and will give of his best. Can we really ask for more?" Before his conversion, Byrd had supported Democratic filibusters of Bush judicial nominees.