West Virginia is finally red after 84 years of Democrat dominance, joined by a Republican congressional sweep which left U.S. Senator Joe Manchin the lone Democrat in Congress. The question on many national pundit’s minds is will Manchin flip to Republican.
The short answer is no, and it goes to show how little the national political outlets understand internal West Virginia politics.
Here is the long answer: Joe Manchin IS the Democrat Party in West Virginia, and is one of the reasons Democrats lost big, both on the federal and state levels.
Manchin is probably one of the best political actors on the national stage, maybe even better than President Bill Clinton. From the sets of CNN to the sound stage of Morning Joe, Manchin has the national press convinced that he is a conservative Democrat. They believe Manchin is a man who is not afraid to go against the Democrat leadership in the U.S. Senate and cross the aisle to work with Republicans. He was the co-chair of the independent No Labels group until today. Just a little nudge and he could flip and join the new Republican majority in the Senate.
Again, people who think the decision for Manchin to flip is an easy one just don’t understand West Virginia politics. There is no way Manchin will flip, especially if he decides to abandon the Senate and make a run for a third term as Governor of the Mountain State.
Let’s go back in time a few years. Since 2005, when Joe Manchin first took the Governor’s Mansion, the Democrat Party in West Virginia has been completely controlled by Manchin and those in his machine. Nick Casey, who just lost a bid for West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District against Republican Alex Mooney, was one of Manchin’s first hand-picked chairs of the state Democratic Party. Ever since, the state Democrat Party’s strategy was to be Republican-lite, while getting liberals elected.
More recently, Manchin’s former chief of staff, Larry Puccio, has ran the state Democrat Party as chairman. Manchin went on to the U.S. Senate after Robert C. Byrd died. Earl Ray Tomblin, the state Senate President, was groomed as Manchin’s successor in the mansion, keeping most of Manchin’s department executives and staff. They have long tried to push liberal Natalie Tennant on the electorate, first as a candidate for Governor and this year as a U.S. Senate candidate to take on Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito. They gave us Nick Casey. They rallied behind troubled Democrat Congressman Nick Rahall. And they used all the dirty tricks they could to keep the statehouse and Democrat hands.
Manchin was the puppet master behind all of this. Republicans in West Virginia already know this already. He would never be welcome as a Republican in West Virginia and definitely not trusted. But Joe isn’t a Republican with a D by his name. He is a Democrat through and through, but he knows West Virginia is trending more and more conservative. He has ran the Democrat Party publicly as GOP-lite, but voters finally saw through it.
Manchin is already trying to protect the architects of this year’s losing campaign. In the Charleston Gazette, Manchin defended how Democrats campaigned and specifically defended Larry Puccio:
“This is not Larry Puccio,” Manchin said. “I watched him work diligently and do everything humanly possible. It was just something you couldn’t prevent: This was a tidal wave coming from Washington on down.”
No doubt this was a wave, but Democrats campaigning under the guidance of Puccio and Manchin turned off much of their base by running so hard from President Barack Obama that many stayed home or voted third party.
There are only three options for Manchin. First, stay where he is. He’s not up for reelection until 2018. Second, return to West Virginia and run for Governor on the Democrat ticket in 2016. It’s the only way he keeps his control over the state Democrat Party. Lastly, he could get picked as a Vice President candidate in 2016.
Either way, there is no saving the Democrat Party in West Virginia. Running as GOP-lite didn’t help, and if they run as liberal Democrats they’ll do worse. You can thank Obama, but also thank Joe Manchin.