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Crucial West Virginia Senate Battle Goes Down to the Wire

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INWOOD, W.Va. -- On a recent Saturday in October, West Virginia's Gov. Joe Manchin darted from event to event in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, working without prepared speeches or much staff to speak of. He surfed across a schedule that began with a ribbon-cutting for a local elementary school and wrapped up hours later at a farm party for the Berkeley County Democratic Women's Club.

In between, he gave a pep talk to campaign volunteers, stopped inside Collins' Barber Shop to chat up surprised customers, and gave commendation awards to elderly West Virginians at the Bank of Charles Town.

Although he seemed to relish each stop, there was no missing the urgency behind his moves. Less than 10 days separated him from the election that could either deliver the two-term governor a rare defeat or send him to the United States Senate, which would likely remain under Democratic control with his victory.

End of an Era

In the weeks after the death of Sen. Robert Byrd in late June, Democrats in Washington breathed a sigh of relief when Manchin announced he would run to fill Byrd's unexpired term. With a near-70 percent approval rating, years of state budget surpluses, and endorsements from right-of-center powerhouses like the National Rifle Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, party insiders considered Manchin a slam dunk to win the seat.

But after the state's primaries and months of withering attack ads fueled by millions of dollars from outside groups, polls showed Manchin even with or trailing John Raese, the Republican businessman making his fourth run at statewide office. While Manchin attacked the wealthy Raese as out of touch and "not one of us," Raese painted Manchin as a loyal foot soldier of President Barack Obama, who lost West Virginia by 13 points in 2008 and now has a dismal 69 percent disapproval rating in the Mountain State.

"I think a lot of people in West Virginia don't like the agenda or the direction that Barack Obama and some of the Democrats are going," Raese told me in an interview before his speech at the Eisenhower dinner at the Martinsburg Holiday Inn. "I think that's the reason (Manchin) is having a problem. When you look at the state of West Virginia, he's very popular here, but that doesn't carry over to Washington."

It's a line of attack that clearly frustrates Manchin. "This is the first time I've ever seen an election where it's not based on what your accomplishments are," Manchin said during one of his stops in Charles Town. "They're saying, 'If he goes (to Washington), he's going to be the same as everyone else.' I can assure you that won't happen."

To prove to West Virginians that it won't happen, Manchin went so far as to decline to endorse the president and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for their current jobs.

"Things have got to change. People will have time to evaluate and make a decision over the next two years and four years," Manchin said when I asked if he expects to endorse Obama for a second term. "I just think there's a lot of correction, a lot of changes, a lot of things that need to be fixed before I would say anything about anybody running for office."

When I asked if he would vote for Reid as Senate leader, assuming Reid wins on Tuesday, Manchin said only, "I'll support the person who supports West Virginia." Asked if Harry Reid supports West Virginia, Manchin repeated, "I'm going to support the person who supports West Virginia, and I'm not going to support the person who doesn't support West Virginia."

Two Sons of West Virginia

Both Manchin and Raese were born in West Virginia. Manchin, whose family turned out several state lawmakers, attended West Virginia University on a football scholarship, where Raese also went to college and where Raese's father, "Dyke" Raese, coached the basketball team.

Both men went on to work in their family's businesses; for Manchin it was furniture and politics, for Raese, it was Greer Industries, his family's multimillion dollar media and commodities conglomerate that he now runs as CEO.

In 1982, Manchin won a seat in the state's House of Delegates. From there, he went on to the state Senate, the secretary of state's office, and now the governor's mansion. Raese took a turn chairing the West Virginia Republican Party and ran for statewide office three times, including two previous runs for Senate and a campaign for governor.

Despite Raese's long ties to the state, he has has to answer questions recently about his West Virginia residency after media reports revealed he had several homes, including a mansion in Palm Beach, Fla. Democrats, in turn, launched an ad saying Raese moved to Florida "to avoid paying West Virginia taxes."

It's an accusation Raese chafed at as he explained that one of his daughters has special needs and is in a Florida school to address them. "My family lives in Morgantown. When you have a child that has special needs, you try to do the best for your children. But I'm not going to send a 12-year-old little girl out by herself," he said in our interview. "People know where I live."

Race to the Right

On the issues, political observers usually chart Manchin's and Raese's positions on a spectrum from conservative to extremely conservative. Both are pro-life, NRA-supporting, small government conservatives, but to varying degrees.

Raese calls the Obama administration "unadulterated socialism." Manchin describes the last two years of the administration as a pendulum that has swung too far to the left. "I think the overreaching, the regulations, the intrusions, people are scared to death that the job market hasn't healed itself," Manchin told me. "The government should be my partner. It shouldn't be my provider. It sure shouldn't be my dominator."

Manchin says he supports parts of the health care bill, such as provisions requiring coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, but he wants portions repealed. Raese wants the whole thing scrapped.

Manchin's biggest disagreement with Obama is on the energy reform proposal known as cap-and-trade. The measure which would limit carbon emissions by requiring polluters, particularly coal-fired power plants, to pay a fee, thus driving up the cost of using coal. The measure is so toxic in West Virginia, the second largest coal producing state, that a Manchin ad shows the governor using a rifle to shoot a hole through the House-passed cap-and-trade bill.

On that issue, Raese agrees, calling cap-and-trade "absolutely the most catastrophic bill that was ever presented to the United States, with only the exception of Obamacare."

Manchin has tried to cast Raese as an elite, out-of-touch industrialist, pointing to Raese's objection to a federal minimum wage. Although Raese opposes a minimum wage, he told me the federal government should provide unemployment benefits to laid-off workers. "There is a concern right now, we have a lot of people unemployed," he said. "I think that a government that doesn't have soul is not much of a government."

For his part, Raese has embraced his conservative bona fides. He gave the packed house at the Eisenhower Dinner a heaping dose of red meat during his speech there, full of Reaganisms, Jimmy Carter jokes, and riffs on what is means to be free.

"I am somebody that believes very firmly in free enterprise and capitalism," he told the enthralled GOP audience. "Because that is what made this country great."

And while Manchin may be running away from his party's leaders, he's not running away from his party in the state where Democrats still outnumber Republicans by nearly two-to-one.

"Every time this country is in need, every time people have been hurt, every time people have been suffering," he said. "It's always been the Democratic Party to step in; we've always been there."

Where it Ends

Supporters of both men have their own theories about why the race is so close, despite Manchin's sky-high approval ratings.

Mike Roberts, a Democrat running for the state house, said Manchin may be a victim of his own success running the state. "He's such a popular governor, I think a lot of people in the state hate to see him go," Roberts said. Although he believes Manchin will win the election, Roberts added, "I do think Obama has been a drag on the governor."

Judge John Yoder, a Republican running for the state Supreme Court, said Manchin simply wasn't prepared for the challenge.

"I don't think the governor had any idea what was going to hit him," Yoder said as he introduced Raese at the dinner. "I think this has totally taken him by surprise."

A trio of polls, including an internal Manchin survey, in the last week have shown Manchin pulling even with and now beating Raese by three-to-six points. It's news that has Washington Democrats cautiously optimistic, but wondering what kind of team player they will or won't be getting if Manchin is elected and joins the Senate for the lame duck session.

To find out, I asked Manchin which current senator he admires or might emulate if he wins, but he did not name one.

"I've never done that," he said. "I've always been my own person."

For the latest election coverage, follow me on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy.

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21 Comments

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mgl53

I've never seen such cowards. Manchin does a 180 in his beliefs just like McCain is doing in Ariz. This is proof, if any was needed, that politicians will sell their souls for a vote. I wonder how many would run if their were no percs to be had. No insurance, pensions, free travel or lobbiest jobs to be had when their days in Congress ends.

October 30 2010 at 6:58 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
billsailorbox

The truth is that if W. Virginia likes Cap and Tax and they want to see EVERY coal mine in W. Virginia closed then vote for Manchin. With Manchin in the Senate Obama has a chance to pass Cap and Tax, with Raese in the Senate there is NO chance. So be careful W. Virginia, your fate is in your own hands. Remember this, if EVERY politician was disqualified for having two homes then NONE of them could be in Washington.

October 29 2010 at 11:41 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
SFURL30895

Senator Byrd created GOVERNMENT jobs, not real jobs where a growing company hires more and more people. What jobs has Rockefella brought to the state? Raese creates private sector jobs and knows how business works. Rockefella inherited his millions so he doesn't know what it's like to look for a job when there weren't any. His great granddaddy made his fortune on carbon based fuel. Manchin has lived his career in the public manger all his life to where he doesn't know how to operate in the private job sector. All they know - Rockie and Manchin is how to spend money supplied to them by somebody else - grandaddy or the taxpayer. WV needs Raese - someone who knows how to create private sector jobs for people who want to work and earn their own money.

October 29 2010 at 11:33 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to SFURL30895's comment
george

What's wrong with government jobs? I know lots of very good, dedicated teachers who work here. They have government jobs. I know some mine inspectors who are investigating the coal companies failures resulting in two recent mine disasters. Gov't jobs again. There are thousands of fine men and women in the military serving our state and our country...government jobs again. Two thousand people working good paying jobs at the FBI center in Harrison County. Ask them all if they think they don't have REAL jobs. In the private sector? Well, take a look at the Toyota plant in Putnam County (Rockefeller speaks Japanese, btw), or the Bombardiere Services plant in Bridgeport. Manchin private sector jobs? Well, next time you're feeling under the weather, stop by the Manchin Clinic in Marion County and ask some of the physicians assistants, nurses, administrators and secretaries there how they got their jobs while you're being seen by a licensed doctor. Then on your way home, stop by in Morgantown and ask the folks at Greer Limestone (Raese's) and ask how much profit they are making from selling crushed limestone to improve roads using federal stimulus money? Maybe Big John Raese will be around and you can ask him why he thinks we need to put a thousand lasers up in outer space. Maybe he wants to point them at his limestone pits to blast out more stone so he won't have to spend his granddaddy's inherited money to do it himself. Remember him saying "I made my money the old fdashioned way, I inherited it"?

October 30 2010 at 3:37 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
george

What's wrong with government jobs? Ask the 2,000 plus workers at the FBI center in Harrison County. Ask the teachers all over the state. Ask our men and women in the military what's wrong with government jobs. What jobs has Rockefeller brought to the state? Ask the workers at the Toyota plant in Putnam County who put more than $50 million dollars a year into West Virginia's economy. Did Raese, who inherited his millions from his granddaddy have to look for a job? Remember his comment, "I made my money the old fashioned way, I inherited it"? What does Joe Manchin know about private sector jobs? Check with the workers at Bombardier Services in Bridgeport. Or you could ask the doctors, physicians assistants, nurses, administrators and secretaries at the Manchin Clinic in Mannington. Does Big John know how to spend taxpayer money? Check the books at Greer Limestone in Morgantown and see how much federal stimulous money they are getting out of the numerous new road projects all over the state. I wonder if he's going to use any of his newfound profits to build the 1,000 lasers he wants to put into outer space ("we need them now!" he said). WV needs Manchin in Washington. Someone who is more interested in creating jobs than pocketing money ("I'm not in the business of making jobs, I'm in business to make money.")

October 30 2010 at 2:39 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
flsteeler6

If all of you think West Virginia would be in a mess voting for Joe Manchin, think again. I live in South Florida, have seen John Raese's mansion in Palm Beach, and know that he could care less what happens to any one of you there. It would be a huge mistake electing him as senator for the great state of West Virginia. I only wish I could be back home again to vote for Manchin. He is a good man and nobody cares more about the people of WV than he does. Good Luck.

October 29 2010 at 11:04 PM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
Crustee

Huntington WV, I for one am so tired of our representation here it would make even _you_ sick. We've had Byrd for over fifty years. Rahall for 34. Rockefeller for 30, We're at the bottom of the heap, cant ever remember this state being anything other than an afterthought. I wouldn't be surprised if Manchin was elected to obamas court of jesters. I voted for Joe. The only democrat I voted for to be honest. But Joe has sided with a president who's unstable at best I dont trust his/Joes judgement when things get rough. I think they are light weights, and will fail us with the best of intentions. Stop spending now. Drill our own dang oil, please, someone, protect our borders. And no freekin obamacare/or cap and tax. We cant take a chance on Joe. Sorry Mom, cant take any more.

October 29 2010 at 10:27 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply
watchjanerun

As a long standing Democrat, I cringe of the thought of voting in another "Yes Sir, No Sir" senator into Washington. WV needs a change and we need someone that has a backbone and that will challenge Washington....Sorry, but Manchin is not up to the job, and cannot fill the shoes of a Senator worthy to fight for WV, fight for building our economy, and fight for protecting our natural environment. His attention to the blue and gold state has been less than impressive and his energies have been spent trying to impress others for his personal gain, not for the economic strength and leadership of our state. That does not equate to my vote or my fellow West Virginian's vote for Senator. It will be the first time I support another party, but I see it as CHANGE we truly need in the cardinal state.

October 29 2010 at 10:06 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
inn0v8ive

Funny how at the last 10 days to the election Manchin has time for his state. During the current reign of his governship, Tax Payers have paid for Manchin's high priced wine and dine events with the coal companies, Pelosi's air plane rides to and fro the west coast, and lobbyist that are filling his pockets with Santa Wish Lists, while the state of WV gets poorer, the economy loses more companies and jobs that ever before, and empty promises from his previous campaign trail are buried deeper and deeper into the mines and minds of his constituents. WV CANNOT AFFORD MANCHIN

October 29 2010 at 9:56 PM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply
Hippie

My five West Virginia friends - two who are Democrats - all say they are voting for the Republican, John Raese, because of the mess Obama has made, not because Manchin isn't a good candidate. These are not happy people. One lost his job over a year ago when the bank he worked for was shut down, another lost his job in July when the metal fabricating plant he worked at was forced to downsize, and the wife of third lost her job when the restaurant she worked for closed.

October 29 2010 at 9:52 PM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Hippie's comment
foodiefrog

My friends left WV (actually that ran out of WV after college, and never looked back) because of the political theatrics that echo from the mountains and because of the lack of jobs and poor economical conditions that plague our beautiful state. Think just how sad that truly is, that our citizens in droves are leaving our state because no one in government can lure businesses to the state and boost our economy. Why would we vote for more economical devastation and more of the same?

October 29 2010 at 11:08 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
tia121987

WVa get used to the term Senator Manchin, as he is now leading by 7 points!!!

October 29 2010 at 8:34 PM Report abuse -10 rate up rate down Reply
SFURL30895

West Virginia loves Sen. Byrd, but look at the economics of the state. It has the lowest per capita income of the 50 states. Byrd bragged about bringing in the pork but he should have brought them jobs. If WV voters put Manchin in office, even though he's a good man, when he gets to Washington, his presence will aid the furtherment of the Obama agenda because it gives them more party votes. If Manchin doesn't vote with the party, he knows they will abandon him financially at the next election, so Manchin will eventually cave in to the demands of the Democratic party. I'm from southern WV where the real election was at the primary because the contending Democrats would run during the primary. The primary winner ran unopposed in November because there were no Republicans. Why any West Virginian would ever vote to put a Democrat in office who will eventually fall in line with Obama and put coal out of business has to be crazy. Obama will put WV out of business - lights out. Senator Rockefella doesn't care because he's rich because his great grandpa made his fortune from carbon based fuels several generations ago when capitalism was still alive and healthy. Save your wonderful state and vote for Raese!!

October 29 2010 at 8:28 PM Report abuse +11 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to SFURL30895's comment
george

Sen Byrd brought thousands of jobs to West Virginia. Just one example is the FBI center in Harrison County. There are many others. Sending Manchin to the Senate in Washington is the only choice that makes sense. He has a proven record of financial responsibility, making West Virginia one of only five states in the country with a budget surplus this year. Anyone who says that sending a West Virginia Democrat to Washington will result in putting coal out of business has to be crazy. Just more Republican lies. The millions of dollars these out of state groups have been pouring into the state to make nothing but negative advertisements says one thing loud and clear. They can't find anything good to say about their own man. Not surprising when his own wife is registered to vote in Florida. Yes, we do know where they live! Joe Manchin will make a great U.S. Senator and deserves our vote!

October 29 2010 at 8:54 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply

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