CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With a high-profile debate and a presidential visit still ahead, the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Joe Manchin and challenger Patrick Morrisey is tightening up.
The latest version of the MetroNews Dominion Post West Virginia Poll shows Manchin up by 5 percentage points over Morrisey.
The poll shows 45 percent of likely voters favoring Manchin, 40 percent favoring Morrisey, 11 percent for Libertarian Rusty Hollen and 5 percent undecided.
That’s a smaller gap than the last version of the poll in August, which showed Manchin ahead by 8 points. It’s also closer than some other national polls have been showing.
And the 5 points is right at the West Virginia Poll’s margin of error of +/- 4.9 percent.
“Probably the race has narrowed for a number of reasons,” said professional pollster Rex Repass, author of the West Virginia Poll.
He described voter interest being stimulated by recent events such as the debate over Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as multiple visits to West Virginia by President Trump.
“It could be a higher turnout this year because of just a tremendous amount of interest in the U.S. Senate race in West Virginia,” Repass said.
“Part of that was spurred by the Kavanaugh debate, part was because of President Trump being in the state multiple times for Patrick Morrisey.”
West Virginia residents have the opportunity tonight to compare Manchin, the Democratic incumbent U.S. Senator, and Morrisey, the Republican state Attorney General.
The two will debate at 7 p.m. in a forum presented by the West Virginia Broadcasters Association. Hoppy Kercheval of MetroNews will moderate, and the debate will be available on all MetroNews platforms.
That will be followed up by another big event on Friday, when President Trump rallies for Republican candidates including Morrisey during a 4 p.m. appearance in Huntington.
With early voting already ongoing and less than a week until Election Day, Repass says such events are best seen as opportunities to keep excitement high among supporters.
“I think opinions of who you support are solidified,” he said. “This is a closing argument. It’s also rallying the base, making sure that those who are enthusiastic have already voted or will vote.”
Manchin and Morrisey each started this week with events meant to fire up supporters for the home stretch.
Manchin was in Morgantown this Monday, rallying with the United Mine Workers.
The senator said his approach is simple.
“Just what I’m doing today: just go out and meet everybody I can,” Manchin said.
Manchin said by now voters should be familiar with him.
“The people know who I am,” he said. “They don’t look at me as Democrat, Republican, independent, or political. They look at me as Joe Manchin from West Virginia.
“I’m going to fight for whatever. If the President does things and he does us good and it’s helping West Virginia, helps our country, I’m for it. If not, then I’m going to stand up to him. The only people I work for is the people of West Virginia.”
Morrisey started the week in Charleston at a small rally of Republicans, including other elected officials such as Senator Shelley Moore Capito and congressmen David McKinley and Alex Mooney.
Morrisey urged the small crowd of well-connected Republicans to encourage others to vote. Morrisey said then that he’s within striking distance of Manchin.
“Every race I run, I close the deal,” Morrisey told the gathering. “President Trump is coming back to West Virginia. President Trump was the key to turning this race around. Now he’s coming to help me close the deal.”
He made reference to a recent poll on behalf of Republicans that showed the race as a tossup.
“We’re one back in the polls,” he said. “We have to get the vote out. Don’t go alone. Bring friends. Bring like-minded friends.”
Most recent polls, as shown by FiveThirtyEight, have shown Manchin with leads of varying strength.
That has led political analysts like The Cook Political Report to conclude that West Virginia still leans Democrat in the Senate race.
“I really see data that has Manchin up, mostly in the high single digits — 8 or 9 on a good night. On a good night he’ll crack 10,” Jennifer Duffy, senior editor for Cook Political Report, said this week on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
“I do not run into a lot of people who think Republicans have a chance here.”
Morrisey had a lot of ground to make up from the outset, Duffy said.
“Manchin is a known quantity. Voters know him, they trust him,” she said.
On Morrisey, she said, “I don’t know that he’s run the strongest possible campaign. While the president has been all-in on Morrisey, there are other Republicans in Washington who thought Evan Jenkins would be the stronger candidate here.”
.@jennifereduffy joins @HoppyKercheval to discuss @Sen_JoeManchin’s steady lead over @MorriseyWV. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIAoe1 pic.twitter.com/q7XQA8Sbvo
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) October 30, 2018
Voter enthusiasm will be one key to Morrisey’s ability to make a final push.
“There’s no question that enthusiasm and getting the vote out is going to be critical to Patrick Morrisey to win,” Repass said.
He said questions about excitement to vote show Morrisey with a slight advantage.
“On the high end of that scale, there are slightly more Republicans who are fired up,” Repass said. “It’s not a big gap. It’s a slight gap.”
There are still some voters to be won over, too.
Besides the 5 percent in the West Virginia Poll show say they are undecided, Repass notes that the 11 percent show say they are voting for Libertarian Rusty Hollen is higher than expected.
Repass suggested people reluctant to commit to Manchin or Morrisey could be expressing support for the third-party candidate. People also might be reacting to negative advertising, Repass said.
“I don’t believe that number is truly 11 percent and I don’t think there’s 5 percent undecided,” he said.
Some of Hollen’s stated support could be drawn from Manchin. It’s possible the senator’s Kavanaugh vote has hurt among some who normally would support him.
Of those polled who describe themselves as liberal, 15 percent say they’re voting for Hollen. Thirteen percent of female voters say they’re voting for Hollen.
“To me, that’s somewhat of a backlash among women and among more liberal voters,” Repass said.
With just a few days left to campaign, Manchin and Morrisey each will be working hard to shore up votes.
“They both have a track record of achieving support across the state,” Repass said. “I believe Senator Manchin is the favorite, but I believe this race could swing closer than some had predicted.”