Politics & Policy

The 51st GOP Senator?

In a conference call with bloggers today, West Virginia Republican senate candidate John Raese talked about an “industrial coma in this country” — and argued that his pro-business, anti-regulation, jobs-creating strategy will resonate with state voters.

Raese faces an uphill battle: as he admitted, there’s a “two to one Democratic advantage” in West Virginia, and the state hasn’t elected a Republican senator since 1956. And his Democratic opponent, Gov. Joe Manchin, is popular, with 59 percent approval ratings in a Public Policy Polling (PPP) poll released yesterday.

But that same poll showed Raese, at 46 percent, with a three point lead over Manchin — within the margin of error, but still the first time any poll has given Raese the lead. And, as a confident Raese noted, only PPP accurately predicted the Delaware GOP primary’s results.

Mentioning that Bush had twice won West Virginia, Raese seemed certain that his Republican label wouldn’t deter registered Democrats from voting for him. “The real key here in West Virginia isn’t Democrat and Republican. The real key is conservative and liberal,” Raese said. “West Virginia, as you know, is an extremely conservative state.”

The hard-charging campaigner (who said multiple times that he intended to be “aggressive” in getting out his message) indicated that the crucial issue in the election could be what West Virginians think about the job Washington’s doing. Arguing that Manchin would be “a rubber stamp for Obama,” Raese said he plans to emphasize Obamacare and Obama’s dismal approval ratings, which are at about 20 percent in the state. He’s also positioning his campaign, Scott Brown-style, as crucial on the national level, speaking about the possibility that he could be the 51st vote in the Senate and describing part of his message as being that he could serve as a “check and balance to Obama.”

But in addition to the difficulties he faces wooing Democrat voters, Raese’s campaign also had a setback this week when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed Manchin, undercutting Raese’s message that he is more qualified to turn around the economy. Asked about the endorsement, Raese shot back that the Chamber was “extremely political” and touted the fact that he has been “endorsed straight across the board by the tea parties of West Virginia.” He added that he’d “rather have that endorsement.”

Raese, who has lost three statewide elections in earlier years, seems confident that 2010, with many concerned about high unemployment and the looming threat of Obamacare, will be different. The voters, he argued, don’t want to spend another career politician to Washington — they want to send a businessman.

Whether’s that true or not will be determined in November. But right now, the PPP poll clearly shows that West Virginians are seriously considering ending the habits of over half a century and sending a Republican to Washington.

Katrina TrinkoKatrina Trinko is a political reporter for National Review. Trinko is also a member of USA TODAY’S Board of Contributors, and her work has been published in various media outlets ...


The Latest