Governor Manchin, dressed for hunting, strides through the woods as he loads his rifle. “As your senator, I’ll protect our Second Amendment rights,” he tells voters, adding that he’ll take on “this administration,” repeal “the bad parts of Obamacare,” and reminding them that he sued the Environmental Protection Agency. At the end, he takes aim – literally – at the cap and trade bill, firing a shot through the legislation.
While West Virginia hasn’t been getting as much attention as states like Nevada or Illinois, it’s a crucial one for any Republican hopes to regain control of the Senate. And the latest polls – there haven’t been many – show Manchin trailing Republican candidate John Raese by 6 points.
This in a state that still sees itself as “Democratic” – and has elected almost exclusively Democrats to Congress, Senate, and the governor’s seat since the Great Depression. This election is to replace Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd, who was the longest-serving member of Congress until he died earlier this year.
But in the last three presidential elections, the state has voted Republican, and there are other signs that it may be the last of the Southern states to turn red. Voters may still self-identify as Democrats, and are strongly pro-union and anti-free trade, but many of the big issues they care about – guns, coal, reduced government spending – are the purview of the Republicans.
It’s a schizophrenic political identity that is evident in both the Senate race and in the state’s First Congressional District, where incumbent Alan Mollohan lost in the May Democratic primary to Mike Oliverio, a pro-gun, anti-abortion candidate, in a sign of anti-Washington emotions. Now Mr. Oliverio is fighting for his life against the Republican challenger, David McKinley, in the general election.
Manchin is doing everything he can to remind voters that he’s a conservative Democrat who cares about the issues they do, even as Mr. Raese tries to paint him as a “rubber stamp” for President Obama, who is deeply unpopular in the state. Manchin was expected to coast to victory, and in July had a 16-point lead in the polls. But anger against Mr. Obama seems largely responsible for his precipitous drop in popularity.
Still, Manchin was handed a gift of sorts in a Raese ad that aired last week. In it, West Virginia voters are shown saying that Manchin should “stay right here in West Virginia.” Except that the men turned out to be Philadelphia actors who answered a casting call for actors with a “hicky, blue collars look” and encouraged them to wear “John Deer” hats.
Raese’s campaign pulled the ad and pointed out that the casting company, not the campaign, was responsible for the wording – and that ads from both parties often use hired actors – but Manchin has lost no time highlighting the fumble in an ad of his own.
“John Raese thinks we’re hicks,” his spot says, adding that Raese moved his family to Florida “to avoid paying West Virginia taxes" and that, "obviously, we’re not good enough for him.”