As Joe Manchin Leaves the Democratic Party, West Virginia Politics Sure Have Changed

Gun Rights

For the remaining months he’ll be in office, West Virginia’s Sen. Joe Manchin will be an Independent, a decision Leah covered at the time on May 31. That being said, he’ll still caucus with the Democrats. There’s been some chatter for months not only as to if Manchin would become an Independent, but if he would seek a different office, perhaps governor or even the presidency. Manchin announced in February he won’t run for president, and has said he’ll support Steve Willams, the Democratic nominee. Even if he doesn’t get further involved, Manchin’s role in West Virginia politics is still fascinating to see how much of a change there has been since he has held office.

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Earlier this month, the West Virginia Republican Party (WVGOP) put out a memo in response to Manchin’s change in party just a few days prior, “Despite Claims, West Virginians Remember Manchin’s Record.”

Matt Herridge, the WVGOP chairman, also released a statement included in the memo. “Senator Joe Manchin portrays himself as a moderate, but his record contrasts starkly with this description and disqualifies him from any potential political future in West Virginia,”  he said. “Although Manchin announced he would not run for election last November and again said he is not running today, it’s still worthwhile to make clear how voters reflect on Manchin’s time time in office: a disappointment from a career politician who has consistently aligned with liberal policies and leadership.”

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The memo highlights Manchin’s stance on impeaching former and potentially future President Trump, with a reminder that Trump won the state twice and will win it again; his vote for the misnamed Inflation Reduction Act; his “Misleading Claims of Independence,” given he still caucuses with the Democrats and votes 90 percent of the time with President Joe Biden; his “D” rating from the National Rifle Association so as to suggest anti-Second Amendment views; and his vote against confirming now Justice Amy Coney Barret. 

Herridge, who also spoke with Townhall about the memo and West Virginia politics overall, emphasized in particular that it was Manchin’s votes to convict Trump during both of his impeachment trials. He explained that concern as “the big one to me that really disappointed me the most.” 

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“I was hoping for what I’ll call a level of moral courage in our leadership across the board, to stand up to that, which was clearly a political motivation in my mind, not unlike what we’re seeing today with with the law fair against… former President Trump,” Herridge added. “I think that’s what it takes to be, I think, in my mind, a very good politician is sometimes to stand up for what you know is the truth, even with pressure, maybe from your own party.”

Herridge had also shared that  ”I can tell you this watching what’s happening here in West Virginia relative to President Trump’s conviction” is “firing up” people. 

Mark Blankenship, who does polling and public affairs work in West Virginia, also spoke to Manchin’s record, and if Manchin is still looking to stay involved by endorsing Williams.

“I think that Joe Manchin is not a person that one would expect to go quietly into the night. And I think that he will do things to try to stay relevant and try to stay influential,” Blankenship offered. “I do think that Joe Manchin faces a different political environment in West Virginia than he faced in 2018 or 2012 and I think voters are very, very aware of some of the sort of national issues that he has taken positions on that they aren’t necessarily in favor of,” such as the Inflation Reduction Act, which Blankenship called “a prime example.”

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“He supported that, and you know, polling suggested that he had a precipitous drop in job approval numbers immediately thereafter,” Blankenship offered about Manchin supporting the bill. That drop in approval ratings continued. “So, you know, there’s kind of those sticky issues that that he has been involved in… on a national Democrat scale that had that that don’t necessarily set well with the, what I would say is the redder voters in West Virginia,. And that’s going to be tough. You know that, yeah, that puts him in a tough spot, you know, to try to win a majority of voters in this state in any kind of election,” Blankenship continued. 

Manchin served in multiple areas of state politics in the 1980s up until 2010, as a member of the House of Delegates, a state senator, the secretary of state, and governor, before he won a special election for the U.S. Senate in 2010. He may very well be leaving at the right time. Jim Justice, the current Republican governor, is almost certain to win that race regarded as “Safe” or “Solid Republican,” with that race trending in Justice’s direction according to some forecasters even before Manchin announced last November he wouldn’t seek reelection. 

Patrick Morrissey, the current attorney general, is also likely to become the next governor in a race regarded as “Safe” or “Solid Republican.” Morrissey lost to Manchin in the 2018 U.S. Senate race, and just recently emerged victorious in a crowded primary

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Blankenship explained that’s where the fight is now. “There’s been a huge demographic switch, or change in the state over the last 20, 25 years.” Both Blankenship and Herridge focused on the stunning reversal of statistics. 

Today, West Virginia has a Republican-plurality in party registrations in 41 of 55 counties. As Herridge explained, “[t]his is a mirror image of where those numbers stood just six years ago, when Senator Manchin narrowly won re-election. This is the first time since 1923 that West Virginia has no Democrats in Congress.” 

And, since Trump won in 2016, Democratic voter registrations in West Virginia declined by 38 percent, while Republican voter registrations saw an increase of nearly 30%.

“So in… 2014 when Republicans won majorities in the House of Delegates and the state Senate, that was the first time since basically the Great Depression,” Blankenship explained. So it and while the state has gotten redder and redder and redder with each passing election cycle, it wasn’t always this way. It used to be very, very dark, dark, dark blue.” Thus, Republicans have only been having those “big primary fights” really since 2014. 

As Herridge also explained when talking to Townhall, it would be “a pretty good characterization” when asked if “West Virginia Democrats have become more irrelevant.”

But again, it didn’t used to be this way. Blakenship even offered details about how there was at one point 33 Democrats in the state Senate, and just one Republican. 

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Come November, Justice and Morrissey are expected to win their races without a problem. Trump is also expected to win, with West Virginia providing him with one of his biggest wins in 2016 and 2020. 

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