CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Joe Manchin, normally a sure-thing on West Virginia ballots, faced a shifting political tide and the pull of the president.
“This race was a national race. I never thought the president would be as involved as he was involved,” Manchin said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
“They were all in. This was a race about me and the president. It really was.”
West Virginia’s U.S. Senate race drew national attention as Manchin, a Democrat, faced re-election where President Donald Trump enjoys an approval rating of 60 percent.
Trump visited West Virginia over and over during the home stretch of the campaign, including a rally Friday in Huntington with Air Force One as the backdrop.
The president and members of the Trump family stumped for Republican Patrick Morrisey, West Virginia’s Attorney General.
“A vote for Morrisey is a vote for me,” Trump said during a late-September rally in Wheeling.
On Election Night, Manchin pulled out a relatively narrow victory with 50 percent of the vote to Morrisey’s 46 percent. Libertarian Rusty Hollen drew the other 4 percent.
The vote difference between Manchin and Morrisey was 18,924.
Given the presidential attention, Manchin said, “There’s no way anyone in the world ever thought I would win.”
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) November 7, 2018
HOPPY KERCHEVAL: How Joe Manchin won
There are a few reasons Manchin was able to pull out the win.
Foremost was 71-year-old Manchin’s appeal with younger voters.
The Manchin-Morrisey election was decided by voters 39 and under, said professional pollster Rex Repass. Manchin won 60 percent of these voters, according to exit polling by Edison Research.
In all other age categories, the vote was essentially a tie.
“It’s very interesting and it’s very clear why Joe Manchin won this election,” said Repass, author of the MetroNews Dominion Post West Virginia Poll.
Younger voters also came out to polls in greater numbers than usual. Eighteen to 29 year-olds were 11 percent of the vote, but normally are less than that.
Those younger voters are motivated by messages of economic opportunity and community prosperity, said Natalie Roper, executive director of Generation West Virginia.
“It shows decision makers that West Virginians under 40 are a really important part of the electorate and are a key factor that can’t be overlooked in decision-making,” Roper said.
More factors made a difference for Manchin.
Trump won 67.9 percent of West Virginia’s 2016 presidential vote, compared to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 26.2 percent. Manchin had endorsed Clinton, a factor that Morrisey’s campaign drove home repeatedly.
Morrisey repeatedly called Manchin a “dishonest Washington liberal” and said he would side with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
But despite President Trump’s frequent visits on behalf of Morrisey, Manchin was able to draw about 30 percent of those who voted for Trump in 2016.
FiveThirtyEight, the statistical analysis blog, indicates Manchin has voted with Trump’s position 60 percent of the time.
“He threaded the needle as he has before,” said Mike Plante, a longtime Democratic campaign consultant who has worked both against and for Manchin.
“The lesson is in states like this you have to demonstrate to a whole lot of people who would be inclined to vote against Democrats to give you a chance because they think you’re something different.”
A key vote for Manchin was the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.
About 60 percent of Manchin voters said his support of Kavanaugh was an important factor in their decision, according to the exit polls.
“Manchin had any number of votes and positions, Kavanaugh being one of them, that said ‘I’m not a national Democrat in the way a lot of my colleagues are,'” Plante said.
“That cemented the notion that he really was an independent-minded senator.”
The challenge for Manchin was a rarity, said Bill Bissett, a longtime political observer.
“It’s the first time since 1996 that he’s really had a tenacious, well-funded, tireless opponent like Patrick Morrisey,” Bissett said.
Bissett is president of the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce, which endorsed Manchin. He said that wasn’t an easy decision for chamber members.
“A lot of my members looked at it between a person they knew versus control of the Senate,” Bissett said. “Senator Manchin was more of a known quantity.”
That’s the kind of choice individual voters had to make as they compared Manchin, who has won election after election in West Virginia, versus Morrisey, who had the president’s stamp of approval.
Although Trump is extremely popular in West Virginia, Bissett said, “I think it’s only so transferrable.”