Almost Heaven, West Virginia

Manchin has sought to cultivate a positive relationship with President Trump Photo credit: Third Way Think Tank

By Rhys Thomas

The Mountain State’s Senate battle offers a quandary for some on the left. Support the Democrats? Of course – but the party’s candidate here is no regular Dem. Joe Manchin infuriates many in his party, but is equally necessary for potential victory in the Senate.

Manchin has served as Senator for West Virginia since 2010, and was previously the Governor. A look at his voting record in the Senate will show that there is plenty to satisfy and anger both liberals and conservatives alike. He has voted to ban abortion after twenty weeks, but also voted to keep funding Planned Parenthood. In 2012, he received an endorsement from the National Rifle Association but later introduced a bill to strengthen background checks on gun sales after the Sandy Hook school massacre, which drew ire from the NRA. He opposes gay marriage yet is a staunch supporter of Obamacare. His variety of views reflect his broader political outlook – bipartisanship is good, party political bickering and close-mindedness is bad. Regardless of the Senator’s own views, the attitude and actions of his fellow Democrats in Washington, D.C. restrict his chances of reelection.

A big moment for Manchin came with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court. A controversial appointment due to historic allegations of sexual misconduct, and there was a laser focus on the relatively few Senators who were perceived as ‘swing votes’. Manchin was one of them, and ended up as the only Democrat who voted for Kavanaugh.

There is a clear problem for any Democrat in West Virginia – it’s deep Trump country. The state has voted for every Republican Presidential candidate since 2000, and Trump secured over 67% of the vote in 2016 – second only to Wyoming in terms of percentage vote for the President. He still polls well in the state, and started his pre-midterm rally tour in WV. It doesn’t pay to be antagonistic to the Donald.

Despite his Democratic label, Manchin has said he is open to voting for President Trump at the 2020 election. He supports the border wall with Mexico, and has praised the President’s trade policies. He voted for most of the Trump cabinet nominees, and was the only Democrat to approve Steve Mnuchin and Jeff Sessions to the positions of Treasury Secretary and Attorney General respectively.

His opponent in this election is WV Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who has secured visits from the big guns including Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Paul Ryan and of course the President. It’s a tight race and a victory for the Republicans with mean it’s all but game over for the Democrats as they seek a clean sweep of both Houses of Congress. Morrisey is pushing that line Manchin’s lack of total loyalty to Trump means that his opponent is not fit for office, asserting “Manchin says that he votes with the president 50-60 percent of the time? In my book that’s a failure”. The incumbent’s lack of support on bills like the Trump tax cuts leave him wide open to this criticism.

As much as Manchin can stifle the Congressional Democratic agenda, they desperately need him to hold on if they are to have any chance of taking control in the Senate. If he loses, it’s another area of the country where Democrats have been wiped out in a traditional heartland.

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