Thursday, September 20, 2012

West Virginia U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

West Virginia U.S. Senate

September 20, 2012
47 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2008 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Safe Democrat

As established in the discussion of the race for Governor in the state, West Virginia is a conservative place, that will easily be carried by Mitt Romney in the Presidential race. Additionally, it is very likely to return to GOP incumbents to the U.S. House, and the other member, a longtime Democrat is in the middle of a competitive race. Like the Gubernatorial contest though, the Democrats will have much better luck in keeping the U.S. Senate seat, and should do so easily.

In 2010, Robert C. Byrd, the longest serving member in Congressional history, passed away in office, requiring the need for a special election to fill the remaining two years of his term. Popular Democrat Governor Joe Manchin quickly became interested in the seat and technically could have appointed himself to it. However, that may not be have been extremely wise politics. Thus, Manchin appointed a caretaker Senator and campaigned for the job. While the outcome of the 2010 election was very much in doubt, voters broke strongly for Manchin in the campaign's final days, as the Governor went to great lengths to distance himself from Barack Obama and the national party. Manchin ran an ad in which he literally fired a gun at a piece of Obama backed legislation. Had a Republican ever run an ad like that, it would have created an overwhelming political firestorm. Nonetheless, Manchin won a double digit victory and was off for Washington, for a two year term.

After this victory, which allowed Democrats to narrowly maintain control of the Senate, few Republicans expected much interest in taking on the now incumbent Senator in 2012. Pro-Life, and culturally conservative on many other issues, Manchin could probably be mistaken as a Republican from time to time, but has not seemed to heed much mind to any party switching rumors. Despite dismissive claims from Republicans that he would always be there when his party leadership needed him on big votes, Manchin did continue to try to forge his own path on Capitol Hill, opposing the Obama Administration on some key fiscal issues and on the key state matter of coal production. Out of all formally acknowledged Democrat and Republican U.S. Senators, Manchin is currently the only one to refuse to support the Presidential nominee of his party. While he has stated that he does not endorse Mitt Romney, Manchin has refused to say whether or not he voted for Obama in his state's Democrat primary this year or if he will vote for him in the November elections. In the May primary, 20 percent of Democrats voted for Manchin's opponent, indicating that some party loyalists were displeased with him.

In theory, Republicans should have a chance against Manchin in a state where running on a ticket with Obama is likely to be a negative, but the party missed it's best shot in 2010, when there may have been motivation to keep the highly approved Governor in his then job back at home. Only one Republican stepped forward to take on Manchin and it is a familiar name for the state's GOP. John Raese is a wealthy businessman and former State Republican Chairman. He has also unsuccessfully sought statewide office on several occasions, starting when he narrowly lost an open U.S. Senate race as the GOP nominee in 1984, going to be soundly defeated for the other Senate seat by Byrd in 2006, and then most recently, as the candidate that Manchin beat in the 2010 special election, in what once looked like a winnable race for Raese.

The returning GOP nominee deserves credit for his persistence and willingness to take on this race, but the polls this year do not look anywhere nearly as close as they did two years ago. Raese is likely to lose by upwards of 30 percentage points, as the state will have ticket splitters galore. Manchin will return for his first full term in the Senate, where he will be an important swing vote. While his presence will help to bolster the overall Democrat number in terms of seeing which party will control the body, he may not really be much of a Democrat at this point anyway.

Republicans will continue to be frustrated in their inability to win the most high profile statewide contests in the Mountaineer State, but will have some hope on the horizon moving forward in the person of Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito. She has long been mentioned as a future statewide candidate, but passed on the opportunity to take on the formidable Manchin in the 2010 special election. She also sat out the special 2011 and regular 2012 Gubernatorial contests in the state and decided against mounting an uphill bid against Manchin for his Senate seat this year. However, many expect her to be a Senate candidate in 2014 in what might very well be an open seat, or even against an incumbent if longtime Senator Jay Rockefeller seeks a second term. Polling currently indicates that Rockefeller is a good deal less popular in West Virginia these days than his new Democrat colleague Joe Manchin.

Raese campaign link:

2012 U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 18 D, 13 R
Predicted U.S. Senate Balance of Power thus far: 48 D, 50 R