Capitol Hill Bureau Chief
It's not happening. That's the message from Sen.-elect Joe Manchin's team in the face of rumors that West Virginia's Democratic governor is being wooed by Republicans to switch parties before he's sworn into the Senate next week.
"Joe Manchin is a life-long Democrat and he is not switching parties," said Melvin Smith, Manchin's communications director in West Virginia. "He wants to work with all sides -- Democrats and Republicans -- to move our state and nation forward. He is looking forward to going to Washington to do his part to help rebuild America."
Smith also told Politics Daily he is not aware of any direct efforts by Republicans to entice Manchin to the other side of the aisle.
His comments came in the wake of a Fox News report
, sourced to an unnamed Senate aide, saying that Republicans are trying to entice the governor to join their party. The offer reportedly involved Manchin's pick of committee assignments, which could eventually open the door to a lucrative coal-to-diesel power plant that would benefit coal-heavy West Virginia.
Manchin was elected last week to fill the vacancy left by the death of Sen. Robert Byrd. Although the popular governor enjoys a 70 percent approval rating in the state, he found himself locked in a tight race against Republican John Raese, mostly due to the local unpopularity of President Obama, who lost West Virginia by 13 points in 2008 and now has a 69 percent disapproval rating
in the Mountain State.
Related: Is Sen. Jim Webb Hinting at Party Switch?
Manchin made headlines
in the weeks before the election when, in interviews with Politics Daily, he declined to endorse Obama for a second term or Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as Senate majority leader.
"Things have got to change," Manchin said when I asked him if he expects to endorse Obama for a second term. "People will have time to evaluate and make a decision over the next two years and four years."
He also distanced himself from Reid, who was in a tough race in Nevada against Sharron Angle at the time.
Now that Reid has won, Manchin will have to decide if he'll back him as the top Democrat in the Senate. He said in October that any leader has to support West Virginia's role as a coal producer to win his vote.
"This state has produced most of the energy for the East Coast," Manchin said. "We have produced the coal that's made the steel that's built the country and defended this country. We've done it all. We're willing to continue to do the heavy lifting, but if you don't understand that, don't look for my vote or support. I don't care who it is."
Reid, along with Obama, pushed this year for an energy reform bill that included a cap on carbon emissions, which would have increased costs for coal-fired power plants.
Despite Manchin's disagreements with his party's higher-ups in Washington, he said unequivocally in October that he would caucus with the Democrats in the Senate if he was elected. He also spoke repeatedly in public about his reasons for being a Democrat.
"Every time this country is in need, every time people have been hurt, every time people have been suffering," Manchin told a group of volunteers at the Democratic headquarters in Charles Town just before the election. "It's always been the Democratic Party to step in; we've always been there."
Although West Virginia remains a culturally conservative state, Democrats still outnumber Republicans
there by nearly 2-to-1. And despite Raese's late surge, Manchin defeated him by 10 points.