Sit down, Joe.

For over 80 years, there was complete certainty that West Virginia would carry for the Democrats. The first cracks in the Democrat armor appeared when Barack Obama vowed to put coal operators out of business in 2008, and the state carried for McCain by over 13 percentage points. Then, the state carried for Romney in 2012, and continued it’s transition to a Republican state in 2014 when both the state Senate and House majorities were transformed to Republican control, including one United States Senator, and all three congressmen.

All Republicans, quite literally for the first time ever.

I’m taking great care to not use words like “swept to victory”, mostly because that’s not the way it happened, and anyone who’s not from West Virginia can’t appreciate the amount of blood, sweat and toil that went into gaining those 18 state senate seats and the 51 seats in the House of Delegates. Some of us who worked for those victories were pleasantly surprised.

One of the interesting transitions happened when Jay Rockefeller, who had a virtual lock on one of the states two seats in the Senate for 30 years, decided not to run. Shelley Moore Capito, daughter of former Governor Arch Moore, became our senator. In all candor, if Rockefeller had run again, he likely would have won, regardless of his age and infirmities.

We had a terrific guy run for Governor in 2016 in the form of Bill Cole, but he was soundly defeated by Jim Justice, a flawed candidate and billionaire, who was backed by the Joe Manchin political machine. The expenditures were about the same, but the Democrats were desperate, and pulled out all the stops to prevail.

Jim Justice, Governor of West Virginia proceeded to produce a rather fragrant commentary on the 2017 budget by producing a silver platter heaped with bull excrement. He flat out thought the Republican proposed budget was “bullshit”, and was not afraid to call it as he saw it.

Considering our previous governor, Earl Ray Tomblin embodied about everything bad about West Virginia, the platter of cow pie was embarrassing, and didn’t help West Virginia’s already challenged image.

Then, in 2017, Governor Jim Justice did something that few sitting governors have ever done. He went up on the stage with President Donald J. Trump and changed his party affiliation to Republican. Now, I understand that he spent a lot of his own money to become governor, but it was no secret that he leveraged the “Manchin Machine” to achieve victory.

Then, all of a sudden, Republicans who had taken to calling Jim Justice “Governor Cowpie” had to come to grips with the fact that he was now THEIR “Governor Cowpie”. Democrats were angry that their “machine” was used to elect a man who almost immediately violated their trust.

Republicans still don’t know exactly what level of trust to accord to Jim Justice.

Granted, the Democrats have not done anything to help themselves in the state. Hillary’s comments regarding coal hurt them gravely, and galvanized working men and women throughout the state behind Republicans.

The changes to transparency and efficiency in state government implemented by the Republicans have been breathtaking,. Patrick Morrisey fixed the Attorney Generals office rapidly, eliminating fraud and nepotism. Secretary of State Mac Warner has been amazing reforming his office and undoing years of partisanship, and Comission of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt fixing decades of bureaucratic bungling and deceit.

Statewide, there is one remaining Democrat. United State Senator Joe Manchin.

We are a little less than four weeks from a primary election, and one thing that about every poll agrees with is that there is a good chance that a “generic Republican” could beat Joe Manchin, a man who’s been twice governor and earned stratospheric approval ratings.

One of the most redeeming features of elections for the Senate is that you have two candidates vying for the election, and trying to prognosticate an election that is still more than 6 months away is about as reliable as forecasting the weather. Like the weather, you have a 50% chance of being wrong.

While the Democrats will be backing their incumbent Senator, Joe Manchin, things are a lot more complicated on the other side of the aisle.

Four Republican candidates, three of whom are viable, and by my estimation only two of which possibly have a chance to defeat Joe Manchin in a race that will likely consume $10,000,000 from each party, plus a likely $5,000,000 in “soft money”. I’m forecasting a $30,000,000 race. Yes, that’s thirty million dollars. All in a state with less than 1.9 million people.

It’s also rare to have a candidate who spent time in a Federal Correctional Institution. Don Blankenship is extremely vocal in his assertion that he was set up, but the fact remains that he’s on probation. He’s bringing enormous resources to bear on the primary race, and in a multi-candidate race, actually has a more than even shot at being the candidate selected to run against Manchin. If that were to happen, it’s a race he can’t win. A man who was declared “guilty” of the Upper Big Branch(UBB) mine disaster against one of West Virginia’s most loved loved politicians?

I like Don Blankenship. He’s personable, sharp, and has a quick wit. I also agree that he was railroaded when it came to the UBB disaster. He’s a solid, good businessman who I believe cared about his people. There is never an upside to an unsafe workspace, a truth held dear by real operators, including Don. He was, however a convenient target for the Democrats who were desperate to put a face on “dirty coal”, and Don was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The other candidates registering double digit polling numbers are Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, Congressman Evan Jenkins (WV-3, which is Southern West Virginia – Coal Country) and Tom Willis, a businessman who is also a veteran.

I know all three men, and enjoy spending time with all of them for different reasons. Only two of them have a chance of defeating Joe Manchin, and the reasons are about as complex as the facts surrounding this race.

Pat Morrisey is a terrific attorney general. He’s in your face and direct. He’s also originally from New Jersey (as am I), and that’s one of those things that permanently alters your DNA. Only the strong survive, and only the smart escape. Unfortunately, there was a dust up with big pharmaceutical companies, and since Joe Manchin’s daughter runs Mylan (remember the EPI-Pen debacle), it becomes a “who is less guilty” race defined by which candidate outspends the other.

Evan Jenkins spent years as a Democrat, and is very eloquent in explaining how the party left him as his reason for becoming a Republican. He was also completely “there” when his district was ravaged by flash flooding. He’s an excellent “retail” politician. By that I mean he’s around, he knocks on doors and makes phone calls. It’s rare in this day and age. He has a voting record on the federal level, and I assure you it will be used to his benefit, and his detriment.

It’s in this complicated climate that you have to evaluate Joe Manchin’s popularity numbers and chances for re-election.

If the election is Blankenship vs. Manchin, you’ll see a professional campaign by Blankenship, against the Manchin Machine. The winner will be the media companies in West Virginia. I believe the victor in this paring will be Joe Manchin. What’s going to be a real problem is what this will do to the Republican establishment in West Virginia. A candidate they don’t want, with some pretty significant battle scars? It could work against many candidates statewide. Again, he’s a great guy, he has assembled the best of the best for his campaign team. The other side made him, in my opinion, almost unelectable.

If we consider Patrick Morrisey vs. Joe Manchin, you’ll see a mediocre campaign (based on what Pat has done so far), against the Manchin machine. The polls give the edge to Joe Manchin in this pair up. One poll said straight up that Morrisey can’t beat Manchin.

The complexion starts to change when you consider Evan Jenkins vs. Joe Manchin. He’s authentic, genuine and has a great story. My call is this paring could go either way. The polls agree. He has run a quality campaign to date.

If Tom Willis makes the cut in the primary, I personally believe he has the right story and credentials to reliably best Joe Manchin. He’s young, vigorous, energized and looks the part. Successful businessman, veteran, and proven leader. The problem is he’s the insurgent candidate in the primary, got a late start, and all the moving parts of the primary have sucked a lot of “air” (that political parlance for money) out of the system. The most credible of the candidates, and the only one with little or no baggage.

The big media companies have taken notice. He looks right, talks right and is becoming one of the people they want as a talking head expert on their programs.

One last piece of data – the rumor mill comes around with “Joe Manchin is considering changing parties”. I’ve seen and heard this locally, and on national programs and media.

It never comes down that way. If it were to happen, you won’t see it coming. Don’t hold your breath.

Joe Manchin is a 70 year old man who is a great operator. The Democrats need him (make that NEED HIM) to keep some level of support from the United Mineworkers, and is their most visible ally in “Coal Country”, which is a whole lot more than West Virginia.

In my opinion, Joe Manchin is one of the best “retail” politicians ever. Some of his county operatives supported Trump. Many of them did not. Violating the trust he has with those people would be very, very dangerous. It’s why I believe the chances of his changing party are highly unlikely.

So, you know who I like. Who do I think will win, you ask?

There is a song sung by rugby players, and the refrain is “If I were a gambling man, and I thank the lord I’m not Sir…….”

I’ll tell you after the primary.

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