This week hasn’t exactly been kind to West Virginia’s governor in his bid to upgrade his seat to the Senate. John Raese has managed to keep a small lead in place, and a federal corruption probe appears to be widening. Politico reports that Democrats in West Virginia are beginning to worry that Joe Manchin might find any last-minute effort to build momentum stymied:
A federal investigation into West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin’s administration has taken a disturbing turn for his Democratic supporters: agents reportedly have subpoenaed the director of the state Aviation Division, along with flight logs and records for official government aircraft.
The news comes just after federal prosecutors privately asked a judge to delay the sentencing of a contractor who got a no-bid contract to redecorate Manchin’s office. And the developments are set against an ongoing government probe reportedly involving state Democratic Party chairman Larry Puccio, Manchin’s former chief of staff.
It’s highly unlikely the federal investigation will be resolved before Election Day, and the exact details of the probe, which apparently stem from state contracts, are still unclear. But the headlines about possible wrongdoing in the governor’s office – and rumors swirling around his former top aide – threaten to hamstring Manchin in his tight Senate race with millionaire businessman John Raese, with the Democrats’ control of the Senate at stake.
“There’s no smoking gun,” said West Virginia Democratic consultant Michael Plante. “There’s no revelation here now, there’s no indication of who is involved or why they’re interested. But it certainly makes for interesting chatter around the state capital.”
The big question involves Clark Diehl, a contractor who was due to be sentenced on Monday. The judge postponed the hearing until April after investigators warned that it could damage their probe. Diehl is apparently cooperating, and his direct connection to Manchin and other Democratic officials makes the 11th-hour intervention rather interesting. If he’s singing a tune important enough to warrant the request to delay sentencing, the song must be awfully important.
Of course, the probe may end up having nothing to do with Manchin, either, although it now involves a contractor given no-bid work done in his office and a public works project in Manchin’s home town. In that sense, federal investigators did Manchin no favors by putting off the sentencing. But the absence of flat denials and talk of “no smoking guns” makes it look as though the popular governor has reason to worry — and West Virginians have reason to keep him close to home.
Rasmussen will report today that Raese still leads by three — down from seven last week.
Update: I was wrong about the Rasmussen poll today. It shows Manchin up by three over Raese:
Democratic Governor Joe Manchin has been in overdrive in recent days to distance himself from President Obama and congressional Democrats, and now he’s edged back into a three-point advantage in West Virginia’s U.S. Senate race.
The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely West Virginia Voters finds Manchin with 49% support to Republican John Raese’s 46%. Two percent (2%) like another candidate in the race, while four percent (4%) remain undecided. …
A week ago, Raese held a lead over the highly popular governor who surprisingly found himself on the defensive in a state where the president and his policies are highly unpopular. The race remains one of the closest in the country with both national parties pouring heavy advertising dollars into the state.
Raese leads among voters who Strongly Disapprove of President Obama’s performance while Manchin is the overwhelming choice for those with a positive opinion of the president. Among those who Somewhat Disapprove of Obama’s performance, Manchin has a 2-to-1 advantage.
A ten-point swing in a week? That seems rather odd to me. The sample split is D+7, 44/37/19. The 2006 exit poll from West Virginia showed a much wider split, 51/32/16. The previous week’s sample was more generous to Democrats, 48/35/17. Looks odd to me, but Raese needs to get back in gear in the final days.