Joe Manchin has reclaimed the lead in the West Virginia Senate race by a 48-45 margin. He trailed by 3 points in a PPP poll three weeks ago and his improved standing is a clear example of the biggest potential game changer nationwide for this year's election in the final three weeks- if Democratic voters wake up some of their candidates' fates could shift quite a bit.
In 2008 56% of the voters who came out for President in West Virginia were registered Democrats while 29% were registered Republicans. The poll we did in mid-September found that the folks planning to vote in this year's election were considerably more GOP leaning- only 51% Democrats and 37% Republicans. But Democratic interest has perked up quite a bit over the ensuing three weeks and the likely electorate is now composed of 55% Democrats and 33% Republicans, still slightly more GOP friendly than in 2008 but enough to put Manchin back into the lead.
Perceptions of where this race stands have changed dramatically over the last three weeks and could be the reason Democratic voters are now becoming more engaged. In mid-September a Manchin victory was seen as inevitable but since then it's become clear the race is actually a toss up. That realization that Manchin actually does need their votes to win seems to have produced a greater sense of urgency with the Democratic base about getting out and voting next month.
Manchin's 68% approval rating on this poll is the highest PPP has measured for any politician in the country in 2010. Majorities of Democrats (80%), independents (60%), and Republicans (50%) alike are happy with the job he's doing. John Raese on the other hand has seen his favorability numbers slide over the last three weeks to the point where now just 39% of voters see him favorably and 46% have an unfavorable opinion.
Manchin's net approval is 53 points better than Raese's net favorability yet this is still only a 3 point race because the political climate remains toxic for Democrats in the state. Barack Obama's approval rating in the state is only 33%. Out of 32 states PPP has polled in this year that is Obama's worst approval anywhere.
34% of voters in the state both approve of the job Manchin is doing as Governor and disapprove of the job Obama is doing as President. For those folks the dislike of Obama outweighs the affection for Manchin- they're supporting Raese by a 59-34 margin. There are a few other worrisome findings for Manchin in the poll as well- even though he leads 47% of voters would prefer he remained Governor to 38% who want him in the Senate. And 53% think the national Democratic party is too liberal, which should help with GOP arguments that even if Manchin himself is not too liberal his election would help keep the liberals in charge in Washington.
All things considered though things look a little sunnier for Manchin than they did 3 weeks ago. There's no doubt this is a toss up race but it appears that things have at least stopped getting worse for him as they were throughout the month of September.
Full results here