By JAKE ZUCKERMAN
Less than a week after he lost a West Virginia congressional race by nearly 13 points, Democratic state senator Richard Ojeda announced Monday his plans to run for the presidency of the United States.
On Sunday night, the "Ojeda for President" committee was formed under the Federal Election Commission. Standing before the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. on Monday afternoon, Ojeda formally announced his candidacy.
"We got a long ways to go, this is going to be a long fight, but we're going to do this together," Ojeda said in a live statement broadcast online. "I'm Richard Ojeda, and I'm running for the president of the United States of America."
The Ojeda presidential committee formed less than a week after Republican Carol Miller squashed a surge of enthusiasm behind Ojeda's campaign by decisively winning their race for the open U.S. House seat in West Virginia's 3rd Congressional District.
From his concession speech onward, Ojeda has criticized President Donald Trump for intervening in the race, stating that he'd have won had the president not gotten involved. During a few visits to the Mountain State ahead of last Tuesday's election, Trump voiced his support for Miller and had been critical of Ojeda.
In his announcement Monday, Ojeda said in his congressional run, he came to realize the problems facing Southern West Virginia are the same facing places like the South Side of Chicago; Flint, Michigan; the Bronx, New York; or even Silicon Valley.
He criticized politicians who "legislate themselves into wealth" and proposed a system in which federal lawmakers are subject to a wealth cap of $1 million, and must donate the rest of their holdings to charity. Likewise, after leaving office, they can only receive retirement of up to $130,000 per year and total income of up to $250,000 per year, with anything above that being donated to charity.
Also, Ojeda said federal lawmakers should be subject to "the very same health care systems as the average citizens," hearkening back to his congressional campaign's emphasis on health care and protecting the Affordable Care Act.
"I can guarantee you, we will finally see a fix in our health care system when the very people voting on those bills are directly affected," he said.
Ojeda, whose name is pronounced oh-JED-ah and is of Mexican descent, was elected to the West Virginia senate in 2016 and became a champion of teachers during their fight last winter for better pay and benefits. He sponsored successful legislation to make medical marijuana legal, and has stressed health care and economic issues in a district reeling from lost coal jobs.
He said Republicans and Democrats alike, including Trump, have focused more on "infighting, political wars."
Ojeda is a relative newcomer to politics. He lost a 2014 primary race for the U.S. House before winning his senate seat in 2016.
Of the 270 electoral votes required to win a presidential race, West Virginia has five to offer. And even those are no guarantee for Ojeda.
He won two of 18 counties in the 3rd District race, Fayette and Boone. His state Senate seat spans all of Lincoln, Logan and Boone counties, plus parts of Wayne and Mingo counties.
However, Ojeda narrowed the margin significantly in a district Trump carried by about 50 points. In 2014, former GOP Rep. Evan Jenkins won the seat over 38-year Democratic incumbent Nick Rahall by almost 11 points. He then won re-election in 2016 by a whopping 44 points.
Krystal Ball is a former MSNBC pundit and founder of The People's House PAC, which backed Ojeda in his congressional bid. She said though Ojeda lost, he lurched the district significantly to the political left. If he can replicate that force across the country, she said, he could conceivably win the highest office in the U.S.
"In the entire country, there was not a single Democratic congressional candidate who shifted a district more than Richard Ojeda," she said. "He happened to be running in a district where he needed to make up 50 points, but most of the country isn't like that."
When asked if in five days since losing his last race if Ojeda has had the time to think things through, Ball said he found "a real clarity" in choosing to run, and saw no use in dithering.
"I think he feels like, why wait? I know what I want to say, I know what I want to do - he's not the type to play political games, play coy, make a few trips to Iowa, go on a listening tour. That's just not him," she said. "So once he decided, it was like, I'm gonna get out there and do it. What are we waiting around for? Let's go get it done."
As for his lack of national exposure compared with recent presidents, Ball said it's just a sign of the modern era.
"I don't know if you've noticed, but these are pretty unprecedented times," she said.
Chris Trent, 3rd District vice chairman of the West Virginia Republican Party and Logan County Republican Executive Committee, said Ojeda's run is just an attempt to "bring down President Trump and conservative values."
"He knows he can't win his next Senate election because southern West Virginia stands with President Trump, so this is his way out," Trent said. "We will see him take a hard left turn to align his values with those of the liberal Democrats."
Ojeda could not be reached for further comment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.