27 April 2007

Quote of the Day

“You’ll win the election.”

-- U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill. and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Caucus, to state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, while urging Unger to challenge Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, in 2008, as quoted by Hoppy Kercheval of MetroNews.

Unger v. Capito in 2008?

MetroNews' Hoppy Kercheval considers the possibility in his online column today.

He cites a recent phone call to the Berkeley County Democrat from U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill. and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Caucus.

"Unger is an intriguing choice by the DCCC," Kercheval writes. "The three term senator has always been somewhat of a misfit within the state party structure. He’s frequently a thorn in side of state senate leaders who prefer team players to independent voices."

Emanuel is a key figure in a new book on the 2008 election, The Thumpin'. But Capito, R-2nd, was one of the few November successes for the GOP in West Virginia, avoiding the wave evoked by that title.

Few national pundits have yet weighed the hundreds of U.S. House races slated for 2008. Those that have, including The Rothenberg Political Report and Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball, don't include Capito's (or either of the other two W.Va. seats, for that matter) in their rankings.

"Any seats not listed are currently considered to be at limited risk for the incumbent party," Rothenberg notes.

DC's Political Report, meanwhile, lists several other potential Capito challengers: Delegates Cory Palumbo and Carrie Webster, both D-Kanawha; Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha and a physician; and Gat Caperton, son of the former governor and an Eastern Panhandle business owner.

This report also notes the speculation that Capito may be recruited to take on U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller in 2008, and so lists former state Sen. Steve Harrison, R-Kanawha, as a possible successor in her House district.

Update: The Charleston Daily Mail reported earlier on entreaties to Unger from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

26 April 2007

Gun Control & Mental Health - Updated

The Associated Press' Tom Breen has found that West Virginia is among 28 states unable or unwilling to supply the mental health records needed to enforce a federal 1968-era ban on selling guns to anyone "adjudged mentally ill."

The Mountain State "does not report involuntary psychiatric commitments to the FBI because the state doesn't know how many such commitments there are," Breen reports.

The state Supreme Court is developing a computer system to record these commitments, handled by the counties, but it won't be online until at least 2010, the AP story said.

The Virginia Tech massacre has prompted the review of existing gun laws, and Breen reports on possible congressional action in this area.

Update: Public Broadcasting's Scott Finn has also focused on this topic, with a piece that aired on National Public Radio's Morning Edition on Wednesday (with audio link).


That's the number of Morgantown residents who cast ballots in Tuesday's city election, out of nearly 14,000 registered voters, The Associated Press reports.

Turnout hit 1.55 percent even though the voting was for "mayor and seven council members to lead one of the fastest growing communities in West Virginia that is also home to West Virginia University," the AP notes.

25 April 2007

W.Va. Donors Flock To Edwards

Democrat John Edwards has collected $72,100 from West Virginia contributors, or about $19,000 more than the rest of the 2008 presidential field combined, The Associated Press reports.

Three other candidates have received at least $10,000 each: Republicans Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.

All told, West Virginians have given to 10 of the 19 declared presidential candidates for 2008. But their combined $125,000 is a mere fraction of the $127 million these campaigns amassed as of March 31. The state ranks 42nd for contributions, with donations topping $1 million in 21 states and Washington, D.C.

24 April 2007

Jay in GOP crosshairs? UPDATED

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is the target of a video ad that the National Republican Senatorial Committee has posted on its own section of YouTube.

But the spot appears to be of a cookie-cutter variety, as nearly identical ads on the NRSC page similarly attack such other Democratic senators as Tom Harkin of Iowa and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

The ads seize on comments attributed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., regarding Iraq.

The NRSC set up its YouTube page April 3, and added the anti-Rockefeller video Monday.

The NRSC launched the first attack ad of the 2006 election cycle with an online (and later TV) spot targeting Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va. The NRSC appeared to be singling out Byrd with that effort, however, in an purported attempt to dissuade the 80-something senator from seeking a ninth term.

The NRSC also recruited _ but then seemingly abandoned _ an opponent to challenge Byrd, who won his record term with more than 64 percent of the vote.

The Charleston Gazette touches on the new NRSC video.

Update: The pundits are already handicapping the race for Rockefeller’s seat in 2008:

22 April 2007

Virginia Tech

I will remain on the story for at least one more day. I was allowed to return home for the weekend, but must travel back to Blacksburg later this evening.

The Associated Press dispatched someone from my bureau because Charleston is closer to Richmond. We knew of only one death but multiple injuries when I headed out, just after noon. I was crushed when my radio picked up the initial press conference and word of 20+ fatalities. My despair only increased when they upped the death toll further, just as I crossed into Virginia.

I was the 2nd AP reporter to reach the scene, following our Roanoke-based correspondent. I was also the 2nd reporter overall to visit the nearby Montgomery Regional Hospital, where 17 of those shot and injured were taken.

Throughout Monday afternoon, I interviewed friends and, later, family members of those wounded by the shooter. Details were still sketchy, and I often had more information than the VT students I was interviewing. But to a person, they were all very patient with me.

Only one chose not to go on the record, a Korean student who smoked pensively outside the ER as he awaited word on a wounded friend, a fellow Korean.

I visited the hospital several more times over the course of the week, fielding updates as the wounded continued to recover and were discharged. I wrote this brief about one of these students, the quick-thinking senior and former Eagle Scout, Kevin Sterne.

I spent most nights that week staffing the briefing center set up at The Inn at Virginia Tech, an impressive new building that houses a hotel, conference facilities and the school's alumni center. Standing-room only during the day, I found myself sharing the room with only a couple of Australian reporters and a handful of Asian media during the early morning hours.

The number of Asian reporters, thought, would sometimes swell to between 25 and 30, however, during the overnight. I still can't get my head around the scale of the media coverage: more than 30 video cameras ringed the rear of the briefing center during those press conferences. I once walked around part of The Inn to count the satellite trucks, and stopped at 60. Reporters from Canada, France, Japan and the UK sat immediately around me in the room.

I spent part of each night walking the campus. VT is a very attractive place to go to school. It has grand, Gothic style stone buildings with engaging architectural features. It seems to have a nice lay out, and ample green space (it also has a solid radio station).

Monday night, I traced the route between Ambler Johnston and Norris halls. The walk took less than 10 minutes. At that point, we had no idea what Cho did for the 2+ hours between the shootings. Even with the mailed "multimedia manifesto," we may still not have the complete picture. But I wondered that night what else he had done that final morning.

Later on in the week, I walked around the exterior of Norris Hall. It's been cordoned off, of course, and the public is not allowed near that entrance that Cho apparently chained shut before he opened fire. It is the only entrance visible, though Norris is attached to another building.

As best I can tell, we still don't know why Cho targeted Norris Hall. Looking at it that night, I wondered whether he saw it as a killing zone he could control: by chaining the door and then starting on the opposite side of the hallway, perhaps he figured he had trapped everyone in all those classrooms.

I also spent that first night identifying those killed, with help from VT's web site and the school's sizable online community. The school's site also helped me pinpoint three of the Norris classrooms that Cho attacked, and that the office of one of the professors killed was one floor up.

My duties also took me to the drill field. Mourners lit candles, left flowers and wrote prayers and condolences at several spots on and around the field. The solemn, graceful war memorial nearby also hosts one of these shrines.

I interviewed students and others there late Wednesday night, but by then the canceled classes had shifted the media-to-student ratio to, well, unhealthy levels. As I prepare to return to Blacksburg, I understand that the VT student government has asked all media to leave the campus by Monday morning.