The great challenge of Joe Manchin's Senate campaign has been this: convincing West Virginia voters who like him but don't like Barack Obama to let their affection for him outweigh their animosity toward the President in deciding how to vote this fall. He's been improving in his ability to do that over the last 2 weeks and as a result he's increased his lead over John Raese to 50-44. He led by 3 on a PPP poll a couple weeks ago and had trailed by 3 on a September survey.
The race is pretty much the same place it was two weeks ago with liberals and moderates but Manchin has been making progress with conservatives. Where before he was getting only 17% of their votes, he's now up to 24%. That suggests things like the television ad where he 'shoots' the Cap and Trade bill are helping to reassure voters in the state that he wouldn't be just another vote for the Obama agenda in Washington DC.
The incredible dichotomy between how voters in West Virginia feel about Manchin and Obama continues as the election draws near. Manchin is the most popular politician PPP has polled on anywhere in the country this year, with 69% of voters approving of his job performance to only 23% disapproving. The state simultaneously gives Obama his worst reviews of any state where PPP has conducted a survey this year, with 65% of voters disapproving of him and only 31% approving.
The reason this race has remained close despite Manchin's overwhelming popularity is that for the folks who both like Manchin and dislike Obama, accounting for 37% of voters in the state, the feelings toward Obama have been more influential in how they plan to vote. In early October Manchin trailed 59-34 with that group. Now though, as he's emphasized his conservative credentials on the campaign trail, Manchin is facing only a 51-43 deficit with that segment of the electorate. That's why he's been able to build his lead over the last few weeks.
The other reason Manchin's looking a lot better than he did a month ago is that John Raese simply has not worn well on the campaign trail. In our first West Virginia poll his favorability was 41/35. Since then his positive number has stayed basically the same at 42%, while his negatives have risen to 47%. Republicans may have needed a more formidable candidate than Raese if they were going to defeat the incredibly formidable Manchin.
This race isn't over but Manchin's looking better by the week.
Full results here