At one point, the challenge in West Virginia was supposed to be finding a Republican that would agree to serve as sacrificial lamb to the eventual anointing of Governor Joe Manchin as Robert Byrd’s replacement in the Senate.  A funny thing happened on the way to the landslide, however — a real political race broke out.  John Raese has made this, well, a race, according to the latest Rasmussen poll, which has him almost within the margin of error:

West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin and Republican businessman John Raese continue to run a surprisingly close race in the state’s special Senate election to replace the late Robert Byrd.

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in West Virginia shows Manchin with 50% support and Raese with 45%, when leaners are included. Two percent (2%) prefer some other candidate in the race, and three percent (3%) are undecided.

Without leaners, it’s even closer:

If leaners are not included, Manchin posts a 48% to 44% lead over Raese. In late August just after the two men won their respective party primaries, Manchin was ahead 48% to 42%. In a hypothetical matchup in July after state legislators officially approved the special Senate election this year, Manchin led Raese by a 51% to 35% margin.

Sixty-six percent (66%) of those who support Manchin say they are already certain how they will vote in November, as do 65% of Raese’s backers.

Raese easily wins among WV independents, with leaners (59/30) or without (61/30).  Manchin wins big among women, outpacing Raese by 21 points in either look at the numbers, but Raese has a 13- or 14-point advantage among men.  Interestingly, Democrats are more uncertain of their vote (31%) than Republicans (25%), while almost a third of independents are still on the fence (32%).  That could mean a late break away from Manchin in his own base, which despite his popularity (70% job approval) is clearly not making a convincing case for a move to the Senate this year.

Manchin’s candidacy is facing the same headwinds as Democrats across the country, plus another gust from his own favorability.  Almost a majority of respondents want Manchin to stay in his current job.  Combine that with the unpopularity of ObamaCare, which 65% of WV voters want repealed, and 60% of the voters think th economy is getting worse, and that makes a powerful combination that favors giving the seat to the Republican.

It’s telling that Manchin hasn’t gotten to 50% in a state where his job approval ratings are through the roof.  Voters don’t want to send Democrats to Congress, not even very popular Democrats who have won amazing bases of support within their states.  In this case, West Virginia voters can eat their Manchin cake and have a Republican cake in the Senate too by keeping Manchin right where they want him most, instead of providing Barack Obama and Harry Reid another vote for the current Democratic agenda that includes a cap-and-trade bill that will kill the economy in their state.  If Raese makes this much closer, he could win a race that no one thought would be competitive two months ago.