Tribute Dinner Honors Byrd

WHEELING – West Virginia’s U.S. Senate race could determine whether the next term of the U.S. Senate will be ruled by a Democratic or Republican majority, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller said in Wheeling Saturday night.

Rockefeller, D-W.Va., served as keynote speaker for the Ohio County Democratic Women’s Club Northern Regional Jefferson Jackson Dinner as Democrats gathered at the McLure Hotel in downtown Wheeling. The Democrats came to celebrate the legacy of the late U.S. Robert Byrd, D-Ohio. But Rockefeller suggested the party rally for the future as a very intense 2010 election grows closer.

Rockefeller mentioned speaking with U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. – a member of the Senate leadership team – earlier in the day. Rockefeller said Schumer told him, “The Senate is going to be Democrat or Republican based upon what happens in West Virginia.”

“That’s how close it is,” Rockefeller said. “We have to do everything we possibly can. … In a year where the country is on the edge of changing – either toward growth or madness – we are part of what will make that difference.”

He addressed the issue that some people may not vote this year as negative political advertising has spoiled their appetite for the political process.

“If we are not making people who are Democrats so unhappy that they don’t want to go out and vote, then we are talking about the wrong things,” Rockefeller said.

“We either vote, or we lose. The obligation of voting is not one that I think people have the right to ignore – they do, of course – but they should not be proud of it.”

Among those also speaking at the dinner was West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, the Democratic candidate for Byrd’s seat in the U.S. Senate who faces a challenge from Republican John Raese.

The campaign we’re in right now is the most unusual I’ve ever seen,” Manchin told the crowd. “I’ll be the first to tell you – I wasn’t prepared for this.

“I have to be honest with you. I never thought Sen. Byrd would pass. Everytime he got sick – he always rallied. There was a certain strength about him that made me stronger.”

Manchin said he doesn’t like what he sees going on in politics.

“When I see people putting their party first, their political agenda ahead of this country, it is not a good environment,” he commented. “I’ve seen such a mean spirit to where people are rooting for their leaders to fail. That’s not how we do it in this country. That’s not how you build a family. That’s not how you build a business, or take care of yourself or anyone you love.”

Manchin said he wanted President George W. Bush “to be the best president he could be,” and he wants the same for Obama.

“Lord knows we don’t agree on many issues, but we can disagree,” Manchin said of himself and Obama. “We are total opposites on Cap and Trade. But I can respectfully disagree.”

Byrd didn’t care what party you were from, he continued.

“If you were wrong, you were wrong,” Manchin said of Byrd. “That was healthy. But you have to do it with civility.”

Also speaking during the dinner were U.S. Rep. Charles Wilson, D-Ohio; West Virginia 1st District Democratic congressional candidate Mike Oliverio; Democratic West Virginia Senate candidate Orphy Klempa; and state House of Delegates Democratic 3rd District candidates Shawn Fluharty and Ryan Ferns.