MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Gov. Joe Manchin’s odd political dilemma in his bid to succeed the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D) was evident the minute he began speaking to the 55th annual gathering of a local Democratic club.
Rather than delivering the standard Democratic campaign boilerplate, Manchin launched into well-rehearsed remarks assuring his audience that if elected on Nov. 2 he will not “rubber-stamp” President Barack Obama’s agenda, that he opposes cap-and-trade legislation to regulate carbon output, and that he would work to repeal much — although not all — of the new health care law. Manchin delivered the same line during a pep talk to volunteers at the Monongalia County Democratic headquarters.
In an interview Thursday afternoon following his luncheon speech at the Clinton District Democratic Women’s Club, Manchin readily acknowledged that Obama and Democratic leaders in Washington, D.C., are acting as an albatross in a Senate race that most prognosticators assumed would be among Democrats’ few easy victories this fall. Manchin is running against wealthy Republican businessman John Raese, who has led the governor in most recent polls.
“It’s hurting, it’s hurting. And, yes, [West Virginians] don’t like these overreaching government policies,” Manchin said in the lobby of the Ramada Inn in Morgantown. “We’re West Virginia Democrats, we’re responsible, we’re held accountable, we don’t think everything should be given away, we think you should earn it. We don’t think government should tell you everything you should do. But you have to have government for that balance, and they think it’s out of balance.”
“The only rubber stamp I am is for the people of West Virginia,” he added.
Carye Blaney, 40, a member of the women’s club and the Monongalia County clerk, conceded that the West Virginia Senate race has become nationalized, and that Manchin is the victim of the same political headwinds that are tripping up Democrats elsewhere. Still, she remains confident that the governor will ultimately prevail over Raese.
“We are a more conservative base of Democrats in this state, more moderate to conservative, if you will, than some of the other states that we share the party with,” she said. “And I think that yes, he’s trying to tell the people of the state of West Virginia that he will bring the same values, the same thought processes, the same priorities to Washington that he has when he took over the governor’s office.”
Manchin’s public schedule before the luncheon on Thursday began with a campaign stop in Beckley, an appearance before a gathering of about 200 seniors at the Monongalia County Senior Center, which was billed as an official gubernatorial event, then a meet-and-greet with volunteers at the county’s Democratic headquarters. The rest of Manchin’s Thursday schedule included at least one fundraiser that is closed to the press, and a second visit to a local Democratic Party headquarters in Fairmont.
At Manchin’s campaign events earlier in the day, he seized on revelations that a recent National Republican Senatorial Committee television spot depicting two West Virginians discussing why they were going to vote for Raese was, in fact, filmed using two out-of-state actors.
Manchin read the casting call for the TV spot repeatedly, charging that it depicts West Virginians as “rednecks” and is worse than insulting. Although it is unlawful for the NRSC and the Raese campaign to coordinate on advertising, the governor said the production of the ad is proof that his GOP opponent has a low opinion of the very people he seeks to represent. In the TV spot, the actors are wearing baseball caps and casual, blue-collar work attire.
“The bottom line is, they stepped over the line today,” Manchin told the Democratic women’s group.
The Raese campaign dismissed Manchin’s charges as unfair and accused him of trying to change the subject.
“The ad is ridiculous and I am happy to say that no one with the Raese campaign had anything to do with it,” Raese campaign spokesman Kevin McLaughlin said. “But this race isn’t about TV ads, it’s about the future of West Virginia. Joe Manchin is desperate to avoid talking about the issues.”
Manchin indicated that he thinks the response to the TV spot could turn the Senate race back in his direction. But while Republican operatives based in West Virginia acknowledged that as a possibility, they don’t expect it to be more than a one-day story, given that the ad has already been yanked from the airwaves.
Regardless, Manchin is urging his supporters to work hard for his election over the next 26 days, saying the race could go either way at this point.
“If you thought this was a slam dunk, it’s not,” he said.