Jon C. Hancock/AP
Former president Bill Clinton smiles as W.Va. Governor Joe Manchin campaigns at Tamarack in Beckley, W. Va., on Monday. Manchin declared victory against his opponent, John Raese, Tuesday.

West Virginia Senate: a crucial but hollow victory for Democrats?

Gov. Joe Manchin has declared victory in the race for the open West Virginia Senate seat. His win makes it very unlikely that the GOP will control the Senate. But in Washington, Manchin might act more like a Republican than a Democrat.

Early returns suggest that Democrat Joe Manchin has defeated Republican John Raese in the West Virginia Senate race. With his victory the Republicans appear to have lost their best chance to take control of the Senate.

To do so now, they would need a clean sweep of all the remaining close Senate races, including Washington and California. The latter, in particular, is a long shot for them.

While Governor Manchin has been up in the polls in recent days, his victory was far from assured in a state where President Obama has just a 30 percent approval rating.

His win has Democrats breathing a sigh of relief. But it also could be a hollow victory for them given how Manchin won his race.

In many ways a Democrat in name only – a highly popular governor of a state where voters still identify themselves as Democratic even as they move ever farther to the right – Manchin ran on a platform hugely critical of Obama, and is likely to cast many key votes with Republicans.

He’s a pro-life, pro-gun rights Democrat who promised to try to repeal parts of health-care reform and – in one notable ad – literally took aim at and fired a hole through cap-and-trade legislation.

If he has any hope of reelection, Manchin will likely need to follow through on those promises and oppose Obama on just about everything: not the kind of senator Democrats might have been hoping for.

Manchin is the first major victory in the Senate for Democrats, but it’s also a race that, while close, they expected to win. Now attention shifts to the many tossup states that have been much tougher to predict, particularly Illinois, Nevada, Colorado, and Washington.

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