These days, it’s hard to get shocked by polling results that show Republicans surging in once-safe Democratic constituencies, but the latest survey from PPP in West Virginia manages to do it.  Republican John Raese, given virtually no chance at all to win the Senate race against popular Governor Joe Manchin when he declared his candidacy this summer.  Raese has now just jumped into a lead, albeit within the margin of error, as Manchin collapses:

PPP’s first look at the West Virginia Senate contest finds a very tight race with John Raese up 46-43 on Joe Manchin, a result within the poll’s margin of error.

The contest provides a fascinating choice for voters in the state who love their Democratic Governor but hate the party’s ranks in Washington DC that he would be joining.

Manchin is the second most popular Governor PPP has polled on all year, behind only Bobby Jindal, with a 59/32 approval spread. He breaks almost even with Republicans as 42% of them approve of the job he’s doing with just 44% disapproving. In a highly polarized political climate the list of politicians with that kind of crossover popularity is very short.

At the same time West Virginians couldn’t be much more down on national Democrats. Barack Obama’s approval rating in the state is just 30% with 64% of voters disapproving of him. Even within his own party barely half of voters, at 51%, like the job he’s doing. Support from Republicans (91% disapproval) and independents (73% disapproval) is pretty much nonexistent.

Maybe WV voters are worried that Manchin would become one of Harry Reid’s “pets.”  They may also be reacting to an expanding federal probe into a highway project involving Manchin’s home town of Fairmont.  Subpoenas have been issued to public officials, but the Department of Justice isn’t talking about their targets, despite a series of FOIA requests, probably to avoid being accused of playing politics in an election cycle.  Either way, for a Governor whose approval numbers were in the 70s, falling to 43% and behind a relative novice in a general election is an indication of utter collapse on the way.

Manchin still gets a 59% approval rating from likely voters.  However, in a poll with a 14-point advantage for Democrats in the sample, 57% believe that the Democratic Party has become too liberal, while a plurality of voters (37%) believe the GOP to be “about right.”  A seventeen-point majority wants Republicans to take control of Congress after this election, 54/37.

The obvious takeaway is that West Virginians seem content to have Manchin stay as Governor and send a Republican to the Senate to replace Robert Byrd.  They can have their cake and eat it, too, and they seem inclined to do so.