EDITORIAL: Manchin Vulnerable in 2012? The Answer May Surprise You

HNN Staff
EDITORIAL:  Manchin Vulnerable in 2012? The Answer May Surprise You

The 2010 Special Election race for U.S. Senate demonstrated how volatile the swing voters in West Virginia could be.

If the polls charting Joe Manchin and John Raese in their quick, three month race to replace the late Robert C. Byrd were to be believed, John Raese went from 7 points ahead, three weeks out, to 9 points down on Election Day.

Since Raese's earlier rise in the polls appeared to stem from his ads challenging Cap and Trade and Obamacare, Manchin's victory was ascribed by many observers to his huge negative TV ad buy against Raese in the final weeks of the campaign. 

In short, Raese owned the important issues in the campaign, so Manchin felt that he had to go hyper-negative, even after 30 years in public life.

Two years later, how vulnerable is Senator Manchin, now that he is the incumbent?  Could he get caught up in a Republican tsunami this fall, or is it possible that his close association with President Obama can be kept to a low roar through November?

After all, this is a state that has defeated Obama twice--by 40 points against Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic Primary here and by 13 points against U.S. Senator John McCain in the 2008 General Election.  Manchin has to hope West Virginia voters separate him from an unpopular Democratic President.

Let's take a look at some other numbers.  In 2010, thanks substantially to that negative ad buy, Manchin won by a comfortable margin, about 9 percent.  A little over 513,000 voters came out in a Special Election to replace Byrd that was unexpected.

But Presidential Election years always have a substantially larger turnout. Just over 700,000 West Virginia voters cast their ballot in our last such election in 2008.  In that result, the Democratic Party's candidate for President, Obama, lost by over 90,000 votes to the Republican nominee, McCain.  That's big.

Significantly, this was almost four years ago, before West Virginians only knew Barack Obama as a Democratic candidate.  Now they have the Obama Administration's record to consider, whether with the costly Stimulus Plan, the unpopular Obamacare overhaul of the country's health care system, the rise of gasoline prices, and the EPA's assault on the state's coal industry.

Does anyone really expect Obama to be more popular in West Virginia in 2012 than he was in 2008?

So we can expect the great tug of war between John Raese and Joe Manchin to involve assessing Manchin's support of the Obama Administration. 

Manchin has already tried to find a way to show some distance with Obama on some issues, but overall, he has shown significant support for Obama, early on with Cap and Trade and later in his revote for Obamacare and continued federal funding of Planned Parenthood by $330 million per year.

But we've seen this act before, haven't we?  Manchin tells us he opposes the President on the issues we're concerned about but then votes to support the President.  Why should we believe him now when he gave the same empty denials the last time?

Moreover, if an additional 200,000 West Virginia voters come out as expected for the Presidential Election year vote, whom will they believe:  Manchin or Raese?

Time will tell, but Raese has one great advantage going in this time:  he can't be blamed for the seriously expensive and ineffective initiatives of the Obama Administration over the past three years.  However, Manchin can.

After all, he's voted for many of them.


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