Southern West Virginia is what most people think of when the state comes to mind. This is the heart of old coal country. During West Virginia's early years, these counties were heavily Republican, but with the arrival of the United Mine Workers in the 1920s, they began to swing toward the Democrats. The onset of the Great Depression permanently realigned the area, and the 3rd District and its predecessors have elected only Democrats since the 1930s. It is still the most heavily Democratic district in the state, despite having given George W. Bush a seven-point margin and John McCain a 13-point win.
Nick Rahall has represented the 3rd since 1976. For an 18-term congressman, Rahall is still relatively youthful; he was only 27 during his first campaign. A fiscal populist and social conservative -- a good fit for this district -- he has faced a tough general election challenge only twice. The first time was in 1990, after revelations that he had been arrested for driving under the influence in California and was being sued for unpaid gambling debts in Nevada; he held on to win with 52 percent of the vote.
In 2010, Rahall looked like he might be in more trouble. His opponent was former state Supreme Court Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard, who attacked Rahall for supporting the Democrats' health care bill, backing the stimulus, and voting to raise the debt limit. But in the end the race wasn't particularly close. This time, Republicans are running state Rep. Rick Snuffer, who lost to Rahall by over 30 points in 2004. An upset is unlikely, but with Barack Obama atop the ticket, it is not out of the question.