The conventional wisdom is that Democratic Governor Joe Manchin is the clear favorite in the special Senate election to fill the seat for which the late Robert Byrd was elected and to which Manchin appointed Carte Goodwin. Manchin is in his sixth year as governor and has had solidly positive job ratings. In addition, in the special primary conducted last Saturday, 63% of the votes were cast for Democrats (73% for Manchin), versus only 37% for Republicans (of which the one serious candidate, businessman John Raese, got 71%). This is about the same as the 54%-29% advantage Democrats have over Republicans in party registration. Some 14% of registered Democrats voted in this primary, as did 15% of registered Republicans. Low turnout on both sides is what you might expect when there is only one serious candidate in each party’s primary and the election is held not at the usual time (May) for a West Virginia primary.
But now pollster Scott Rasmussen reports that Manchin holds only a 48%-42% lead over Raese—down from a 51%-35% margin in a poll just after the legislature authorized this special election to fill Byrd’s seat. Manchin has 70% approval as governor, but he apparently is having trouble translating that into support for senator in a state where 64%, according to Rasmussen, rate Barack Obama’s performance negatively. It is hard sometimes for governors, who can set their own agenda on state issues, to extend their popularity into races for federal office, in which the president sets the agenda on national issues. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Manchin is going to lose, but it does seem to mean that this will be a seriously contested race.