By Lawrence Messina
West Virginia voters chose to send U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin back to Capitol Hill for a full six-year term on Tuesday, rejecting a GOP effort to derail his bid by appealing to the state’s low regard for President Barack Obama.
A Democrat like Obama, Manchin campaigned as an independent voice for the state who has disagreed with the president over such issues as coal, federal spending and the national debt. Courting the tea party vote, GOP nominee John Raese argued that Manchin has helped the Democrats maintain a majority in the Senate that has allowed Obama to pursue his agenda.
Manchin overcame both Raese and Mountain Party candidate Bob Henry Baber.
“I think the people know me. They know that I fight for West Virginia, and I love every human being in this state,” Manchin told The Associated Press. “I love this country. We need to come together.”
In a state where he suffers some of his lowest approval ratings, Obama lost West Virginia’s five electoral votes as he did in 2008, this time to Republican Mitt Romney. Manchin called for the eventual winner of the national race to launch an immediate 50-state “healing tour,” starting in West Virginia.
“I’m just so committed to that. We just need to reach out,” Manchin said. “Forget about our party politics. Start thinking about our future.”
Manchin and Raese had similarly sparred when they ran in a 2010 special election prompted by the death of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd. A popular governor midway through his second term, Manchin overcame that attempt by Raese to tie him to Obama — partly with a now-famous ad that showed Manchin shooting a rifle at the president’s carbon emissions legislation. Raese lost by just over 10 percent of the vote.
The 65-year-old Democrat sought to build on that maverick image in this year’s rematch. He won the endorsement of the state Chamber of Commerce, the West Virginia Coal Association and the NRA, and outraised Raese more than eightfold. Raese has attracted less than $530,000 from contributors, and the multimillionaire and industrialist has loaned his campaign nearly $800,000.
But after repeatedly supporting his bids for office, the state’s largest anti-abortion group had targeted Manchin for defeat over his votes regarding the federal health care overhaul and Planned Parenthood. Endorsing Raese, West Virginians for Life urged votes against the incumbent in fliers distributed outside churches the Sunday before Election Day.
“(Manchin) has kind of betrayed the pro-life movement, and I am very pro-life,” said 60-year-old Janet Adams of Newburg, who voted for Raese.
But Jeanie Farley and her husband of 55 years, Rick, said they voted against Raese. Among other concerns, the two Democrats cited the Republicans’ economic proposals.
“It looks like the middle class has disappeared,” said Rick Farley, 76.
Raese is chairman of the board of West Virginia Radio Corp. and the MetroNews radio network, and chief executive of steel and limestone producer Greer Industries. Besides the 2010 contest, Raese lost three previous statewide campaigns, including two for the Senate.
Manchin wasn’t just campaigning in West Virginia. He endorsed Joe Donnelly, a Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful in Indiana, in a video last month. He taped a similar spot last week for Democrat Bob Kerry in Nebraska’s Senate race.