A couple of thoughts: one, as it’s been widely noted, Manchin ran as a very right-leaning Democrat — for partial repeal of the health-care bill, against cap-and-trade, unwilling to even necessarily say he’d vote for Obama in 2012. He was even anxious to adopt the Right’s language: when I interviewed him, I asked him about President Obama’s health-care plan, and he insisted on calling it Obamacare. And Raese didn’t always run the way you might expect a Republican in a heavily Democratic state to run: he spoke out against the Department of Education and minimum wage (and West Virginia is 2nd only to Texas for percentage of workers who make minimum wage). And, of course, he was up against formidable odds: Manchin was extraordinarily popular, approved by 70 percent of West Virginia likely voters as a governor.
West Virginia’s other senator, Jay Rockefeller, votes with the Democrats 97 percent of the time. Sen. Robert Byrd, whose term Manchin is completing, voted with the Democrats 90 percent of the time. If Manchin, with an eye on the 2012 senate election, bucks his party on big issues, that will still mean a significant rightward change for West Virginia.