Manchin: I may not vote for Obama in November

Remember when blue-collar West Virginia was a lock for Democrats in presidential elections?  Good times, good times.  The state has become so disenchanted with Democrats in general and Barack Obama in particular that interim Senator and former governor Joe Manchin, himself a Democrat up for re-election this year, says he’s not sure he’d vote for Obama, either:

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who has done more than any other Democrat up for reelection this year to distance himself from President Obama, said he does not know if he will vote for Obama or presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney in November.

“I’ll look at the options,” Manchin said this week. The last three years “have made it pretty rough” for his state, he said.

That stance is at odds with almost every other Democrat who is up for reelection this year or is from a state that Romney is likely to win. And it’s an indication of the unique effort Manchin has made to establish his independence from Obama and other Democrats. The senator has regularly used floor speeches and closely watched votes to, as he puts it, “respectfully” highlight differences with Obama, especially on environmental issues. He said Obama has never called him or sought a one-on-one conversation.

Manchin said his own vote will depend on how his constituents view the contest.

We’ll take that as a no, then.  Obama lost West Virginia by thirteen points in 2008 while winning the national popular vote by seven points, and the Electoral College by 192 votes.  After three years of Obama’s war on coal production and use, West Virginians aren’t about to turn around by 14 points to boost Obama, and Manchin knows it.

The White House probably isn’t too concerned about this for those reasons.  This is about Manchin’s re-election, not Obama’s.  Democrats have 23 seats to defend against 10 for the GOP, and they need every caucus member they can re-elect to defend their thin claim on control of the upper chamber.  Obama’s team may not like Manchin’s public opposition to their energy policies, and they certainly won’t care for his public consideration of support for Mitt Romney, but they will keep quiet about it and hope no one notices, too.

They need Manchin more than he needs them, especially considering the impact of having Obama at the top of the ticket while Manchin tries to keep his seat.  He won his last race by 10 points in a special election, after starting it with a 30+-point lead.  Having Obama on the ticket will narrow that advantage even further, and Manchin may have to publicly endorse Romney to hang onto enough momentum to hold the seat.

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