Joe Manchin's popularity is holding up well almost six months after his election to the Senate and if he had to stand for reelection today he'd be in pretty solid shape, even against his toughest potential opponent in popular Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito.
55% of West Virginia voters approve of the job Manchin is doing to 31% who disapprove, putting him in the 80th percentile for popularity out of Senators PPP has polled on in the last couple years. Manchin's numbers have improved a little from our January poll of the state when his approval spread was 52/32.
Manchin's numbers continue to show some unusual but unsurprising patterns. With Democrats he is less popular than most Senators are within their own parties, at a 61/24 approval spread. He actually has his lowest approval rating of any ideological group with voters describing themselves as 'very liberal' at 43%. He's at 60% with moderate and 'somewhat liberal' voters, 54% with 'somewhat conservative' voters and 47% with 'very conservative' voters. He's definitely the only Democratic Senator in the country whose lowest level of popular is with 'very liberal' voters.
He more than makes up for that lack of enthusiasm for him from the base with his appeal to Republicans though. 45% of them approve of him to 41% who disapprove. There was a lot of question about whether Manchin could maintain his crossover support as he shifted from an executive position to a legislative one but so far, so good for him on that front.
Manchin would lead Capito 48-40 in a hypothetical match up, a margin pretty similar to what he won over John Raese in November. Democrats have a huge registration advantage in West Virginia so for a Republican to win takes holding pretty much all the GOP vote while winning over a lot of Democrats. Manchin though is winning almost as many Republicans (20%) as Capito is Democrats (21%). Capito really would need to take about 20% more Democrats than Manchin gets Republicans to beat him and that's why she trails by 8 despite a very impressive 57-22 advantage with independents.
Capito looks to be the only name Republican who could give Manchin a remotely competitive contest at this point. In a rematch with John Raese, Manchin now leads by 32 points at 61/29. Raese's proven to be a weak candidate during several statewide losses and voters don't appear to want him running again. Against 1st term Congressman David McKinley, who could be a redistricting target, Manchin leads by 38 points at 63-25. No matter what happens to McKinley's district he'd be better off trying to keep his House seat than trying to move up to the Senate.
If Capito, or any other Republican, wants to run for the Senate going against Jay Rockefeller in 2014 might prove to be a more enticing prospect than challenging Manchin. Rockefeller's approval numbers are considerably weaker at a 45/42 spread.
It's still a long way until November 2012 but Joe Manchin continues to be a very formidable political force in West Virginia.
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