NBC News and CNN have called the West Virginia Senate race for incumbent Joe Manchin. Fending off Republican challenger Patrick Morrisey, Manchin appears to have held on to his Senate seat tonight by a fairly comfortable margin. The senator was initially seen by Republicans as vulnerable, as Donald Trump won more than two-thirds of voters in the state in 2016 and continues to enjoy strong approval ratings there. But Manchin, buoyed by solid name recognition and a bipartisan reputation, led consistently in public polls over the state attorney general. Now he will serve another term.
The Democrat’s formula for success in a reddening state has been to strategically buck his party on certain issues. Most recently, he voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. This came immediately after Susan Collins assured a majority for Kavanaugh’s confirmation, but it nonetheless defused a potential talking point of his opponent’s. Morrisey aimed to paint Manchin as a two-faced moderate-in-name-only who in fact would vote with Democrats when it counted; Manchin was the only Democrat to cross the aisle on the highest-profile political story of the year.
Notably, on health care, Manchin has been critical of Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare. That may have paid off against Morrisey, who led a lawsuit brought by several states seeking to enjoin the law. Manchin claimed that Morrisey wanted to “deny coverage for people with pre-existing conditions,” a resonant message in the state. Exit polls today showed that one-quarter of West Virginians took health care to be the most important issue, on par with the share who cared about both immigration and the economy.
Manchin’s formula of calculated and selective bipartisanship has earned him detractors from both left and right. From his perspective, though, the results are worth it.