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GOP Suggests Manchin Source of Own Party-Switch Rumors

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is targeting Sen.-elect Joe Manchin in its first attack of the 2012 election cycle, going after the West Virginia governor in part to quash a report that Senate GOP leaders are courting him to switch parties. Republicans have suggested Manchin’s team is behind the party-switch rumor in an attempt to make him seem more conservative.

Republican strategists said the report serves only Manchin, a conservative Democrat who faces the prospect of running for re-election in 2012 with President Barack Obama at the top of the ticket. Obama’s approval rating in West Virginia is around 30 percent. Manchin last week won a special election to serve the remaining two years of the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D) term.

That’s why the first 2012 press release from the NRSC paints Manchin as a typical Democrat, saying his first vote is likely to be for Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to continue as Majority Leader.

“Despite his repeated campaign rhetoric of putting West Virginia ahead of his party leaders’ narrow partisan agenda in Washington, liberal Governor Joe Manchin (D-WV) is already signaling that he plans to side with his anti-coal, pro-stimulus Democrat party bosses over the best interests of his constituents,” reads the NRSC release, an attempt to get reporters in West Virginia to examine Manchin’s voting record once he’s sworn in.

A Republican operative based in Washington, D.C., said Manchin’s campaign rhetoric that he’s for his state, not for a political party, is a “facade.”

“I don’t think anyone believes he intends to switch parties,” the operative said.

Both a Senate Republican leadership aide and Manchin shot down the report, which first surfaced Monday on, as completely false, while West Virginia Democratic Party Executive Director Derek Scarbro called it “ridiculous.” Manchin is scheduled to be sworn in as the Mountain State’s junior Senator next week.

Manchin beat wealthy businessman John Raese (R) by 10 points on Election Day. But the popular governor trailed in the polls throughout much of September and October — a phenomenon attributed to Obama’s unpopularity among West Virginia voters — and Republicans believe Manchin is beatable in 2012, particularly as he compiles a Senate voting record.

The NRSC press release targeting Manchin focused on diminishing his conservative credentials. Jim Dornan, who served as Raese’s campaign manager, argued that Manchin, his supporters or both moved to inoculate the governor against a potentially tough challenge in 2012 by floating a story that the GOP is luring him to switch sides. Manchin spokesman Melvin Smith called that charge patently false.

“His folks were probably behind this charade in the first place,” Dornan said. “He wants to be able to go back in two years, after he makes a couple of votes that are going to really piss people off, and say that he was a voice of moderation in the Senate, that he took on Obama on some votes, and that he took on the Republicans on others, but that both wanted him in their party, thus appealing to everyone.”

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