Senator Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) both cast the deciding vote and was the only Democrat to vote for the motion to invoke cloture on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. The senator has always been known as a moderate Democrat who is willing to break ranks on certain issues, but this is perhaps the most contentious and ramifying political matter since Trump was elected president. Why would he side with the Republican party?
The short answer is that he might have to if he wants to be reelected. Manchin is a well-established political figure in the state and looked poised to cruise to a comfortable win — he currently enjoys a nine-point polling lead over Republican challenger Patrick Morrisey in the RealClearPolitics average — but West Virginia is a deep-red state in which President Trump continues to be very popular, and Manchin’s approval/disapproval rating has recently gone negative. Evidence suggests the Kavanaugh issue is energizing Republican voters across the country — which poses a particular issue for red-state Democrats like Manchin. (A similar effect may have tanked Heidi Heitkamp’s chances for reelection in North Dakota, freeing her to vote No on Kavanaugh.)
Manchin’s strategy in the race had previously been to keep it as focused on West Virginia as possible. A recent and representative TV ad began with the senator playing up his ties to Farmington, W.Va. Morrisey, meanwhile, has been focusing on his alliance to President Trump and casting Manchin as someone who, at the end of the day, will get in line for the Democrats. Once Kavanaugh’s nomination became a salient issue, the strategy gained some traction. A GOP internal poll showed Manchin’s support slipping in recent days, and suggested it could fall farther if he voted no on Kavanaugh. Voting yes would be a shrewd way to neutralize his challenger’s message, and being the deciding vote could put Morrisey on his heels. Manchin might flip before the final confirmation vote, but don’t be surprised if he votes yes.