Last week, Morning Consult, a research company that conducts online polling, released its 2018 rankings for the most and least popular U.S. Senators. Unfortunately for Senator Joe Manchin, he was the big headline.
“Manchin (D-W.Va.) is underwater after posting a 17 point slide—the largest drop of any Senator,” read the headline. Morning Consult says Manchin’s disapproval rating has skyrocketed from a manageable 27 percent last year to 44 percent in the first quarter, that’s one point below his approval rating of 43 percent in his home state.
Those numbers, if they are accurate, are deeply troubling for Manchin, who is seeking re-election this year. He’s already in a tough environment as the lone Democrat of the delegation from a state that has rapidly shifted from dark blue to deep red.
But it’s not just that. Manchin is taking a hit… make that multiple hits. He has been treated like an oversized political piñata over the last several months.
First, he is a long-time politician running at a time when Washington experience is a negative for many voters. Donald Trump rode the “drain-the-swamp” mantra to a whopping 69 percent of the vote here in 2016 and many of those voters want to keep the drain pipes open through 2018.
Second, his rival Don Blankenship, who is running for the Republican nomination to Manchin’s seat, started ads against Manchin months ago. “Joe Manchin is a Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama supporter,” says the announcer in one TV commercial.
Clinton lost by 15 points to Bernie Sanders in the West Virginia Primary Election in 2016 and by 42 points to Trump in the general. Obama was wildly unpopular in West Virginia. He lost by 27 points to Mitt Romney in 2012 and by 13 points to John McCain in 2008.
Third, Blankenship is not alone. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has also been up on radio for several months attacking Manchin, and a Republican super PAC has run TV ads ripping Manchin for voting against the tax plan.
Fourth, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have specifically targeted Manchin several times. Pence ripped into Manchin during an appearance at the Greenbrier and continued the attack on Twitter for, among other things, not supporting the tax reform bill.
Trump has also gone after Manchin several times, most recently during a stop in White Sulfur Springs. Earlier in an interview with the New York Times, Trump said, “I like Joe. You know, it’s like he’s the great centrist, but he’s really not a centrist and I think the people of West Virginia will see that.”
The national rating agencies all view the Senate race as even or tight. The Cook Political Report and Inside Elections both have it as a toss-up, while Sabato’s Crystal Ball has it leaning Democrat (Manchin does have a primary opponent in Paula Jean Swearengin).
Manchin’s people acknowledge the impact of the attack ads of recent months, but they question whether his disapproval numbers could shoot up 17 points. One observer pointed out that Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) saw his approval rating increase by 17 points.
There is always debate about the legitimacy of poll numbers, but collectively the surveys and the anecdotal evidence reinforce the fact that Manchin is in the race of his political life.