Remember this moment from almost exactly a year ago? Shortly after Hillary Clinton bragged that she’d put the coal industry out of business, she met with a roundtable of West Virginia voters — including unemployed coal worker Bo Copley. “I just want to know,” Copley told Hillary at the end of an emotional recitation of the situation in his state, “how you can say you’re going to put a lot of coal miners out of jobs, and then come in here and tell us how you’re going to be our friend?”
Hillary’s response was that she “misspoke,” and didn’t provide the proper context. Needless to say, that answer didn’t satisfy Copley — or in the end his fellow West Virginians, who voted for Trump 69/27 six months later. Roll Call covered the “rare, unscripted moment” at the time, and included this prescient exchange between Copley and Sen. Joe Manchin:
Manchin, for his part, said he has decided he can trust Clinton, knowing full well it might cost him down the road.
“If I thought that was in her heart, if I thought she wanted to eliminate one job in West Virginia, I wouldn’t be sitting here,” the senator said at the round table. “I think Hillary knows that. She wouldn’t be here if she felt that way. There’s no way you could come into this type of a setting and meet the people who hurt so bad unless you want to help them.”
Copley told Manchin, “Honestly, if I can be candid, I think still supporting her hurts you. It does.”
“I believe we’ll have a friend, I really do,” Manchin told him. “And if my political life is on the line, so be it.”
Now Copley wants to be the force to hold Manchin accountable for that decision. Yahoo’s Olivier Knox reported yesterday that Bo Copley has begun the process of jumping into the 2018 Republican primary to challenge Manchin for his seat:
“With everything that has happened over the past year, with all of the attention we have received, with all of the people saying, ‘We really appreciate you representing us,’ we thought maybe people want someone to represent them who understands what they’re going through,” Copley said in a Tuesday telephone interview. “It’s what God’s telling me to do.”
Copley, 40, said he is filing some of the preliminary paperwork needed to get into the 2018 race. If he wins the Republican primary, he’d come up against Manchin, who used to govern West Virginia, where President Trump thumped Clinton by a 42-point margin. Given the state’s political tilt, Manchin is a key target for Senate Republicans looking to protect or expand their majority. …
Copley praised Manchin for working to secure retired coal miners’ health benefits as part of a compromise spending bill to keep government open to Oct. 1. He said he and the incumbent were “fighting for the same cause on that.”
But Manchin’s support of Clinton in 2016 “showed that he has lost touch with his constituents,” he said.
Has he? We’ll see, but Manchin has been a very popular figure among West Virginians for many years, even as the state has turned much more Republican. Manchin has also been careful to support Trump where possible, especially on his choice of Cabinet officials — with the notable exception of Betsy DeVos. He’s incurred the wrath of progressives often enough to declare that he doesn’t care about winning elections, but … no one really believes that from a professional politician. Manchin has tried his best to stake out a wise balance between his deeply conservative-populist constituents and his progressive teammates in the Beltway, and has largely been seen as succeeding at it. The question will be whether West Virginia voters will carry a grudge over his Clinton support two years later, and what the extent of that grudge was in the first place. Unless Manchin gives voters some reason to get angry with him in between, Clinton disgust doesn’t sound like a promising platform to unseat this incumbent.
However, one has to give Bo Copley tons of credit here, just for being willing to tough out his first political campaign against one of the biggest heavyweights in politics. Copley stood up to Hillary and did some damage, and shouldn’t be underestimated. He may find himself in a similar situation as Joe the Plumber with grassroots voters — a simple citizen doing a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington — and could catch the imagination of West Virginians more used to dynasty politics. At the very least, Copley will make the primary fight fun to watch, as well as reminding everyone just how bad Hillary Clinton was at her job in 2016.