Politics

West Virginia’s Joe Manchin Stays Put in Trump Country

Embattled Democrat played up his willingness to work with the president and buck his own party

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., holds Ava Lott, the 2018 Ripley 4th of July Wee Miss, before a parade.  (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin has won re-election in West Virginia in the heart of Trump country, dispatching Republican state Attorney General Patrick Morissey.

With 69 percent of precincts reporting, Manchin led Morrisey 50 percent to 46 percent when The Associated Press called the race.

President Donald Trump carried the Mountain State by 42 points in 2016, and a Manchin victory here helps his party narrow its Senate losses in a year when Democrats in Trump states are on defense.

One of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate, Manchin held the edge in this race since the summer. Some GOP polling continued to show Morrisey competitive, but by late fall, Republicans had largely conceded this seat was out of reach, with Senate Leadership Fund going dark here in the final week of the race.

Manchin played up his willingness to work with the president and buck his own party. He was the only Democrat in the Senate to vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, and he ran ads touting his support for a border wall. He made health care and his support for protections for people with pre-existing health conditions a central part of his campaign.

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Morrisey provided a convenient foil on that issue: as state attorney general, he had signed on to a Texas lawsuit that is challenging the 2010 health care law. (Manchin filmed an ad of him shooting a copy of the lawsuit, which was reminiscent of a 2010 spot in which he shot the cap-and-trade bill.)

Morrisey ran as anti-Washington outsider, touting his lawsuits against former President Barack Obama’s environmental regulations. He also tried to tie Manchin to Hillary Clinton, whom the incumbent had supported in 2016 but backed away from this year.

But Morrisey’s punches against the former two-term governor were largely mitigated by his own vulnerabilities. A former Capitol Hill staffer, he spent much of his career in the nation’s capital. His and his wife’s previous lobbying work gave Democrats plenty of ammunition, especially when it came to pharmaceutical companies and the opioid crisis.

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Manchin played up his West Virginia roots, while Democrats reminded voters that Morrisey was not a Mountain State native. He first ran for Congress in New Jersey, and later moved into the eastern panhandle in 2006.

National Democrats invested early in this race, playing a major role in the three-way GOP primary. They spent nearly $2 million against GOP Rep. Evan Jenkins, whom they believed would give Manchin the toughest challenge. National Republicans, meanwhile, had to spend here against former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship to make sure he wasn’t the nominee.

Watch: Confessions of an Elections Analyst

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