The passing of long-time Harry Byrd, the state’s long-time senator, this year has provided an opportunity for a pick-up for Republicans in this primarily Democrat-dominated state. However, no one could have predicted that would be the case. Gov. Joe Manchin expected to find an easy path before him in his bid to replace Byrd, but is being painted as an enabler of President Obama’s agenda by Republican John Raese. The sour mood toward the president and congressional Democrats has impacted the campaign, making the race a toss-up.
Candidates for West Virginia Senate (six-year term)
Candidate: Joe Manchin
Political experience: Manchin has been governor of West Virginia since 2005. He was a state legislator from 1982 to 1996 and was West Virginia’s Secretary of State from 2000 to 2004. He currently serves as chair of the National Governors Association and chairman of the Southern States Energy Board
Professional experience: Manchin has worked for several family-owned businesses in the past.
Key issues: Rather than talk about what he’ll do in the Senate, Manchin prefers to talk about what he’s done as governor on his website. He notes he’s been strongly opposed to crime, having allotted new funding to state police to fight the illegal drug trade, and that he’s seen the Crimes Against Children Unit grow through additional funding.
He fought for mine safety legislation — eventually passed by Congress — to create new jobs that improved and manufactured equipment to guarantee safety conditions. He’s seen taxes cut in half and committed funding toward state debt and unfunded pensions.
Endorsements: Among Manchin’s endorsements are the West Virginia AFL-CIO, West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, United Mine Workers of America, National Rifle Association, West Virginians for Life, West Virginia Coal Association, National Association of Senior Citizens, West Virginia Medical Association and the West Virginia Deputy Sheriffs Association.
Chances of winning seat: The Manchin campaign has noted that Raese has a home in Florida and that his wife can’t vote in the West Virginia campaign in the hopes of pushing the idea that the candidate thinks he and his family are “too good” for the state, per a campaign ad on Manchin’s site. He’s also using a controversial casting call for a Raese ad to embarrass the state GOP, an ad that called for Philadelphia actors to show up looking “hicky.”
The latest Rasmussen polls show some good news for Manchin as well. The one-time favorite had dropped to a 50 to 44 percent loss against Raese recently, but is now polling just under his opponent, 49 to 46 percent. With only two weeks left in the race, he’ll need to push hard to keep the state in the blue for Democrats.
Candidate: John Raese
Political experience: Raese unsuccessfully ran for Senate in 1984, governor in 1988. He was chairman of the West Virginia Republican Party in 1986, and he ran against Robert Byrd for Senate in 2006.
Professional experience: Raese is president and CEO of Greer Industries, chairman of the Board of West Virginia Radio Corporation, vice-president of the Morgantown Dominion-Post and owns a creative agency called Pikewood Creative.
Key issues: Raese describes himself as a “pro-life conservative” on his website, and he is opposed to human cloning and federally funded stem cell research. He says he’s upset the federal government is suing Arizona while crime and drug dealing along the border expands, noting that immigration reform isn’t possible without expanded border protection.
He feels that the federal debt, which is $13.2 trillion and due to reach $20 trillion by 2015, threatens the economy and will provide a bigger tax burden to future generations.
Endorsements: FreedomWorks, the Charleston Daily Mail and Sarah Palin have endorsed Raese.
Chances of winning seat: Raese’s campaign realizes Gov. Manchin is popular, and he has made a solid effort to distinguish between “West Virginia Joe” and “Washington Joe,” in the hopes of demonstrating that adding another Democrat to the Senate will be unpopular. By painting his opponent as a rubber stamp for the Obama agenda and for cap and trade legislation, he’s changed the dynamics of the race.
The approach appears to be working. He’s slipped in the polls recently, making this a tighter race, but the Republicans have a real opportunity as Raese holds the lead over Manchin in the final weeks.
Key Differences between John Raese and Joe Manchin
Jobs: Manchin touts the fact that since 2005, there have been $13 billion worth of new private investments made in West Virginia, and that during his term as governor, more than 240 companies have either expanded or located to the state. Raese rebuts this by saying that the jobless rate in West Virginia is “spiraling upward,” growing from 3.6 summer in November 2007 to 8.6 percent this summer. He argues that more government and taxation, which he suggests would be the case with Manchin as senator, are detrimental to job growth.
Health care: In Manchin’s “Dead Aim” ad, he claims he will repeal the “bad parts” of the health care bill. Raese says he’s completely against the plan, referring to the reform plan as a means of robbing families of basic medical care choice and suggesting that IRS agents will track down Americans for health care tax payments.
2006 results: Byrd beat Raese 64 percent to 34 percent.
Demographics: According to the U.S. Census, 93.6 percent of the state is white, 3.4 percent black, 1.1 percent Hispanic, 0.6 percent Asian and 0.2 percent American Indian or Alaska Native.