Gov. Joe Manchin wins Senate seat
MORGANTOWN (AP) – West Virginia voters rejected arguments their popular governor would be a rubber stamp for the agenda of President Barack Obama, electing Democrat Joe Manchin to fill the unexpired term of the late Robert C. Byrd.
Manchin’s win keeps the seat in Democratic hands – Byrd held the seat for more than a half-century.
Manchin was leading Republican businessman John Raese with nearly 54 percent of the vote and 77 percent of the precincts reporting Tuesday night after one of the most expensive and contentious races the state has seen in decades.
“We made tremendous strides in the state,” Manchin said Tuesday of his six years as governor. “And the reason we did that’s because we trusted one another. We worked together. We put our state first, and it worked so well for us. And we’re going to continue to fight for West Virginia every day of our lives.”
Democrats also held onto one U.S. House seat that had the potential to swing to GOP control. In the southern coalfields of the 3rd District, Democrat Rep. Nick Rahall won his 18th term, and Republican incumbent Shelley Moore Capito held onto her 2nd District seat against a nominal challenger.
Rahall, who admitted the fight was his toughest since taking office in 1976, was carrying 57 percent of the vote with 67 percent of the precincts reporting in his race against former state Supreme Court Justice Elliott “Spike” Maynard.
While Maynard depicted Rahall as a willing soldier in what he called the Obama administration’s war on coal, Rahall called himself “the most pro-coal member of Congress.”
Rahall said he worked his campaign “rigorously and vigorously from the get-go, never taking a single vote for granted.”
“I think the people were able to see through a lot of negative ads thrown upon us by outside groups,” he added.
The 1st District race between Democrat Mike Oliverio and Republican David McKinley, meanwhile, remained too close to call as the two exchanged small leads.
In Morgantown, a teary-eyed Raese conceded less than two hours after the polls closed, saying he was “extremely disappointed” and apologizing to hundreds of cheering supporters. But he touted the revival of the GOP in a state where it’s often been lethargic.
“We can be proud we have a two-party system now,” he said, to enthusiastic applause. He also praised Republican gains across the country and said the party should be looking forward to 2012.
“We’re gonna get rid of Obama in that election cycle,” he said.
Raese choked back tears at the end of his brief concession speech and left the ballroom at the Hotel Morgan without taking questions.
The win ensured the seat Byrd held for more than a half-century will remain in Democratic hands for at least two more years, when Manchin will have to stand for re-election.
Outside groups spent some $11 million on the race, with anti-Manchin forces providing 57 percent of that.
The national Democratic and GOP committees accounted for $7.9 million of the total. The National Republican Senatorial Committee spent another $75,000 on automated phone calls Tuesday morning, bringing its total to $3.9 million.
Raese, who joked that his values are more conservative than those of the tea party, had run for Senate twice before, once against Byrd and once against Sen. Jay Rockefeller. He also ran once for governor. He stuck to a simple campaign theme, arguing that while Manchin has been a good governor, he would blindly follow his party’s marching orders if sent to Washington.
Democrats, meanwhile, portrayed the multimillionaire industrialist from Morgantown as an out-of-touch outsider who doesn’t understand the challenges of working-class West Virginians. Their ads focused heavily on his part-time residency in the Florida mansion and his opposition to things like the federal minimum wage.
The governor, widely credited with keeping the state fiscally sound even as many others struggle, banked on his reputation as a compromise-builder, a champion of the coal industry and a conservative Democrat.
Descended from a family of well-regarded Democrats whose name has been known for generations, he had the support of diverse groups, from the United Mine Workers and the West Virginia Coal Association to the National Rifle Association and the state and national chambers of commerce.
And after two mine disasters that killed a total of 41 men, Manchin is known even among those who don’t follow politics as a calming and compassionate presence in a time of crisis.
“I have always believed in you,” he has said in recent weeks. “I’m asking you to believe in me.”