In the view of many liberals, Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) are to blame for the pending reversal of abortion rights since the pair is unwilling to change Senate rules to abolish the filibuster and allow legislation that could effectively be passed with a bare majority of lawmakers.
But that approach ignores political reality. Manchin is a linchpin of the Senate Democrats’ tenuous 50-50 majority, which rests on Vice President Kamala Harris’s tiebreaking vote. And Manchin is the only Democrat capable of winning statewide in deep-red West Virginia.
As a senator since late 2010, and previously a governor, a secretary of state, and a state legislator, Manchin brings a lifetime in politics and name recognition — and his brand of centrist politics, including often thwarting President Joe Biden’s agenda, has earned him plaudits in the Mountain State.
“I don’t see any other Democrat being elected statewide for the U.S. Senate,” said political analyst Tom Susman, a former member of the West Virginia House of Delegates who spoke to the Washington Examiner.
Indeed, West Virginia was former President Donald Trump’s second-best state in 2020, crushing President Joe Biden there 69%-30%.
“So they want that seat to be a Democratic seat?” Susman said. “They’re going have to understand what Joe Manchin is about and accept that they may not like it.”
While top Democrats have slammed the likely Supreme Court outcome, leaders face an uphill battle garnering the votes needed to overcome the 60-vote threshold necessary to force a vote in the Senate to codify Roe and likewise lack the support to end the filibuster. On Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) reiterated his stance that Sinema, who also rejects gutting the filibuster, should face a primary challenge.
Manchin has a track record of describing himself as “pro-life” despite the majority in his party favoring policies in line with protecting Roe and the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed abortion access protections under the former case.
“When he was in the state Senate and the House of Delegates, [Manchin] always voted pro-life and with the West Virginians For Life, so I don’t see this being a place where he changes,” Susman said.
“People were frustrated with him on ‘Build Back Better’ and more frustrated with him on voting rights … then he came through for the Democrats on the Supreme Court,” Susman said, referring to his vote to confirm Justice Stephen Breyer’s successor, Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Despite his senatorial role in a state that so heavily favored Trump in 2020, Manchin has a favorable approval rating among 57% of West Virginia voters, up from 40% in the first quarter of 2021, according to a Morning Consult poll from last month. Manchin also raised his approval among Republicans to 69%, up from 35% approval last year, before he quashed Biden’s “Build Back Better” domestic policy legislation.
Among Democrats, Manchin has elevated his infamy, as 54% of his party constituents now disapprove of him, up from 32% this time last year.
Susman and another political science expert, Professor John C. Kilwein of West Virginia University, told the Washington Examiner about key counties in the state that could swing either red or blue, in essence, “purple” areas.
The state saw a steep 3.2% decline in population in the decade leading up to the 2020 Census. Much of the coal industry has shriveled, wrecking local economies. The population dipped to 1,793,716 in 2020 from 1,852,994 in 2010, marking the largest state decline in America.
Monongalia County is West Virginia’s third-most populous county and the fastest-growing, making it a distinct area to watch due to its more Democratic-leaning demographic. The county includes West Virginia University and is home to many professional workers who commute to and from Pittsburgh.
Trump narrowly won in Monongalia County in 2020, beating Biden 49.45% to 48.21%. It marked a considerable shift toward the Democratic ticket, with the same county in 2016 having backed Trump over Hillary Clinton 51% to 41%.