Hoppy Kercheval, Opinion

Sen. Joe Manchin and the expanding eye of the needle

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has historically been a skilled needle-threader. He frequently finds ways to politically maneuver through tight situations without alienating large blocks of voters on either side.

A new poll finds the eye of that needle is shifting and getting bigger and working in Manchin’s favor.

The survey by Morning Consult shows the Democrat’s approval among Republican voters has skyrocketed, up to a whopping 69%, from just 35% a year ago. Manchin’s disapproval among Republicans has dropped from 57% to just 24% over the last year.

Jonathan Kott, a political consultant who formerly worked with Manchin, told Morning Consult, “It turns out that Joe Manchin knows more about West Virginia voters than D.C. strategists,” Kott said. “The amount of interactions he has with his voters I don’t think can be paralleled by other members.”

Manchin’s convivial stump hustings are a factor. However, a larger reason for Manchin’s swing among Republicans is his consistent roadblock of the liberal Democrat agenda. He killed the overstuffed Build Back Better bill and has stood in opposition to eliminating the filibuster, comprehensive election reform, climate change legislation and expanding the U.S. Supreme Court.

Those positions have made him a pariah among hard core progressives, but they play well in his conservative home state. “In surveys conducted Jan. 1-March 31, 57% of West Virginia voters approve of Manchin’s job performance, up from 40% during the first quarter of 2021 — the biggest increase of any senator over that time frame,” according to the Morning Consult Poll.

Manchin’s expanded popularity with Republicans has come with a cost. The poll shows that only 44% of Democrats approve of Manchin, down from 63% a year ago. His disapproval among Democrats has risen from 32% to 54%.

That would seem to make Manchin ripe for a Primary Election challenge in 2024 but forget about that. There aren’t enough progressives to make a meaningful run at Manchin, and more moderate Democrats know it is better to have Manchin than whoever the Republicans put up.

As of the end of March, Manchin already had $6.2 million in his campaign war chest and that is without breaking a sweat. Earlier this month, billionaire Wall Street titan Nelson Peltz hosted a $5,000 a plate fundraiser at his Florida home for Manchin. Peltz is a Republican, but a spokeswoman said, “He believes Mr. Manchin is a rare elected politician from both sides of the aisle who puts country before party.”

Manchin’s political fortunes could change quickly. If Republicans take the Senate in the midterm elections, Manchin’s current “50th vote” leverage with President Biden and the Democrats will not be as relevant.

But for now, the eye of that needle Manchin is threading looks as big as a barn door.

Hoppy Kercheval is a MetroNews anchor and the longtime host of “Talkline.” Contact him at hoppy.kercheval@wvradio.com.