Another Democratic-held seat has emerged as a hotly-contested race this year: The West Virginia seat held by Dem Sen. Robert Byrd for over 50 years, until his death this past June created an opening in a state that has been trending to the GOP for the last decade.
Early on in this race, things looked especially good for Democrats. They’d recruited popular Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin to run for the seat, while the Republicans’ strongest potential candidate, five-term Congresswoman Shelly Moore Capito, announced that she would not run. Instead, the Republicans ended up getting behind a long-time unsuccessful candidate, businessman John Raese. Manchin appointed a former aide, Carte Goodwin, to hold the seat but not run for a full term.
RaeseÂ previously ran for the Senate way back in 1984, losing by a narrow 52%-48% against Democrat Jay Rockefeller, in an open-seat race held in the middle of the Reagan landslide that year. He ran again in 2006 as Byrd’s Republican challenger, spending $2.2 million of his own money on that race, and ultimately losing by a much heftier 64%-36% against a long-standing incumbent who was very much a state political institution.
But now things have started to get very close. The reason is simple: President Obama is highly unpopular in West Virginia.As a recent Rasmussen poll shows, Obama’s approval in the state is only 34%, with 64% disapproval, while Manchin’s own approval is at 69%-30%. This poll gave Manchin a lead of 50%-43%. A separate survey from Public Policy Polling (D) put Obama’s approval even lower at 30%-64%, and Manchin’s at 59%-32%. In that PPP survey, Raese has a lead of 46%-43%.
In fact, check out the themes of all the pro-Republican advertising in the race — tying Manchin to Obama.
Here is an ad from the National Republican Senatorial Committee — which has pumped $1 million into the race:
And one from Raese:
On the other hand, the state GOP is demonstrating some possible nervousness about the race, filing a lawsuit to force the special Senate election onto a separate ballot from the state’s regular elections this year. The reason for this lawsuit is because West Virginia is one of many states that allow the option of straight-ticket voting — and given the historic Democratic dominance of state and local offices, straight-ticket voting would benefit Manchin in this election.
In addition, Raese could have his own vulnerabilities, such as his recent statement: “I made my money the old-fashioned way, I inherited it. I think that’s a great thing to do. I hope more people in this country have that opportunity as soon as we abolish inheritance tax in this country, which is a key part of my program.”
Also, he has attracted some attention for the fact his family does not live in West Virginia, but are instead located in a lavish house in Florida.
A Democratic source expressed some optimism about the race, telling TPMDC: “Look, there’s nothing we take for granted this year. I think it’s a competitive race, but our guy is in the driver’s seat.”