In 1984, a young industrialist named John Raese nearly made history in his maiden run for office: Running as an unabashed conservative with campaign assistance from his hero Ronald Reagan, Republican Raese narrowly (52% to 48%) lost a U.S. Senate seat to West Virginia’s most powerful (and easily wealthiest) Democratic politician, two-term Gov. Jay Rockefeller. The first-time candidate almost became the conservatives’ “Cinderella Man” in the year of Reagan’s final triumphant race for office.
Now 56, with a little less hair and a lot more experience, Raese is back and is the Republican nominee against Robert C. Byrd—88 years old, a member of Congress since he entered the House in 1952, and senator since 1958. Byrd, who just became the longest-serving U.S. senator in history, once promised to be “West Virginia’s billion-dollar industry” and he has. Byrd has brought to the state at least two dozen federally funded projects named for him and, as the Washington Post noted, “his memoir details hundreds of his earmarks in loving detail, along with gleeful tales of moving Navy and Coast Guard offices to his landlocked state.”
“Yeah, and it’s all funded by our tax dollars,” says Raese, who owns a statewide radio network, lime kilns and other enterprises, “I come from the business community, and I believe the old story that if you give someone a fish, you feed him for a day but if you give him a job, you feed him for life.” Indeed, for all the largess Byrd has brought to the Mountain State, West Virginia is still ranked 49th in per capita gross state product.
Dismissing Byrd’s tax-funded “relief,” Raese slams the incumbent on the issues of gasoline, taxes and abortion. In addition, Raese drives home his personal causes of regulatory reform to permit greater job creation and replacing the current tax code with a flat tax.
The plainspoken Raese attracts fresh converts to his candidacy at a time when West Virginia has twice given its electoral votes to George W. Bush and elected a Republican House member and state supreme court justice. In many ways, John Raese’s election would complement these past gains—and make him the “Cinderella Man” of 2006.