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Manchin Fights Rumors of Deal to Switch Parties

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West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) on Monday evening batted down any suggestion that he is considering a party switch following his scheduled swearing-in next week as the Mountain State’s junior Senator.

Additionally, a Senate Republican leadership aide said GOP leaders made no such offer. Manchin and the Senate GOP aide were reacting to a FoxNews.com story posted earlier in the day. The report indicated that leaders were trying to entice Manchin to switch parties by offering sweeteners, such as support for favored legislation, and that he was considering the offer.

“Joe Manchin is a lifelong Democrat, and he is not switching parties. This is exactly what is wrong with Washington — individuals try to put politics before our nation,” said Melvin Smith, a spokesman in the governor’s office. “Joe Manchin wants to go to Washington to encourage Members of Congress to stop partisan bickering and start putting our nation’s needs at the forefront.”

Manchin was elected last week to finish the term of the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D) and must stand for election again in 2012. The governor is a conservative Democrat who campaigned on his opposition to President Barack Obama’s signature legislative policies and a pledge to challenge the liberal Democratic agenda and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

One West Virginia GOP political operative speculated that Manchin could be floating this rumor to send a message to the Senate Democratic leadership that he will not be able to vote with the Conference on key issues, as well as to attempt to scare off any potential top-tier Republican challengers.

Manchin comfortably beat wealthy businessman John Raese (R) on Election Day, but he had to fight hard for the victory. Some have said his biggest fear is a challenge by Rep. Shelley Moore Capito in 2012, although the West Virginia Republican has not signaled any intention of running for the Senate two years from now.

“In my opinion, it’s either coming from [Manchin’s] camp or it’s coming from Republicans who supported him openly and are now trying to justify their actions,” the West Virginia GOP operative said. “Never underestimate the paranoia he and his camp have regarding Congresswoman Capito, and vice versa for that matter. That could factor into this strategy to some extent.” 

Derek Scarbro, the executive director of the West Virginia Democratic Party, called the rumor “ridiculous.”

“Here it is a week after the election, and people are playing games already,” he said.

Emily Pierce contributed to this report.

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