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Wolfe challenging Rockefeller in race for U.S. Senate seat

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

CLARKSBURG -- Jay Rockefeller and Jay Wolfe have at least two things in common beyond their first names.

They both want to be West Virginia's junior U.S. Senator for the next six years and they both have strong political opinions. It's where the latter diverges that turned what might have been an uncontested run for the incumbent Rockefeller into a race, however.

Rockefeller, D-W.Va., of Charleston, is a member of one of the nation's wealthiest and most prominent families. A state- and national-level politician for West Virginia since 1966, he is known as an outspoken advocate of health care, veterans, air transportation and the environment.

Wolfe, R-W.Va., of Salem, is a middle-class West Virginia native who co-owns a small insurance business with his wife. With a state Senate term in his past, the conservative, religious Wolfe said he was drawn into the ring because he is in favor of pro-life and National Rifle Association initiatives and smaller government.

"I don't think my values are so out of line that I'm abnormal," Wolfe said of why he's bucking the odds. "I think Mr. Rockefeller is out of line with West Virginia values."

For his part, Rockefeller said he, too, has plenty of empathy with fellow Mountaineers.

"As a United States senator -- and before that, as governor and state (delegate) -- I have always fought to make West Virginia's families healthier, better educated and more economically secure," reads a related statement on his campaign Web site.

Which man really has his finger on the pulse of West Virginia? Voters will have a chance to say on Nov. 5.

Here is a closer look at both candidates, with the profiles in alphabetical order, to help you make the choice:

Rockefeller, 65, is a three-term Senate incumbent. He has served two terms as governor, one term as secretary of state and one term in the state House of Delegates.

He also served four years as president of West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon.

A West Virginia resident since 1964, Rockefeller came to the state as a volunteer with what is now the Americorps VISTA program.

Family-wise, Rockefeller has been married to Sharon Percy Rockefeller since 1967. They have four children.

If re-elected, he has said office goals would include creating jobs through training, math and science education and enforcement of trade laws. He is also interested in offering Medicare prescription drug coverage to all seniors.

Rockefeller said he would additionally like to assist state emergency responders and medical workers with equipment and the training needed for better homeland security.

As examples of a philosophy he believes is well in tune with the Mountain State, Rockefeller submitted comments on issues such as taxation, gun access and abortion to The Exponent Telegram.

"I have fought hard for tax relief that benefits West Virginia's families and against tax giveaways targeted to the wealthiest among us," he said. "I supported the tax rebate last year. I also voted for a bipartisan amendment to provide a partially refundable child tax credit as part of a $900 billion tax relief bill that would have provided meaningful relief for working families in West Virginia."

Rockefeller also said he is not anti-gun, something Wolfe has accused him of in campaign materials.

"I believe the 2nd Amendment guarantees and preserves the right of law-abiding citizens to bear arms. I have voted to protect over 600 (types of) hunting rifles and guns for hunters and sportsmen. I have opposed gun registration.

"My candidacy has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, and I join them in their opposition to armor-piercing 'cop-killer' bullets and automatic assault weapons."

The senator also said his support of partial-birth abortion, a sticking point with Wolfe, has been limited.

"I have voted to impose limits and restrictions on all late-term abortions, including the partial-birth abortion procedure, and I believe there should be a limited exception only when a doctor deems it is necessary to protect the life and health of the mother."

Wolfe, 47, believes that any support of partial-birth abortion is grounds for removal from office, however. The procedure involves a physician partially delivering a fetus, sometimes a late-term one, before performing an abortion.

Countering Rockefeller's support of such issues point by point is the basis of Wolfe's entire campaign -- whose signage claims he represents "our values."

Gun control is another issue at which Wolfe is taking key aim. Wolfe has an "A" rating from the NRA, while Rockefeller is at the opposite end of the group's grading scale.

"We've got a mascot on the field at WVU that runs around shooting his musket and a U.S. Senator that has an 'F' rating with the NRA," Wolfe said.

In a quick run-down of other issues in which he opposes Rockefeller's voting record, Wolfe said he:

n Supports limited oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve.

n Favors a missile defense shield.

n supported the successful nomination of John Ashcroft as U.S. attorney general.

Preparing a campaign mailing in a back room of his business, Wolfe said these and other issues left him so steamed he was willing to go into battle with about $100,000 in donations and some passionate volunteers.

"I know the odds are against me, but if George Washington and those patriots would have looked at the odds against them they would never have gone up against the king's army," Wolfe said.

This isn't Wolfe's first time in the ring. In 1986, he knocked out a four-term state Senate incumbent. He was defeated by Sen. Joe Minard, D-Harrison, in 1990.

Wolfe also opposed Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., in 1988 at the National Republican Party's request. At one point during that campaign, he walked the proposed route of Corridor H to show his support of completing the highway from Buckhannon to the Virginia border. He believes that effort raised awareness and was instrumental in spurring Byrd to push for the road's development.

Encouraged by his 1986 upset, Wolfe has driven his PT Cruiser and a pick-up truck more than 80,000 miles this campaign. He goes from town to town with signs and desserts he serves at socials.

Family wise, Wolfe is married to Mollie Wolfe. They have four children and are expecting their first grandchild.

Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1447 or by e-mail at nedinger@exponent-telegram.com.