Joe Manchin seems to have made a pretty easy transition from Charleston to Washington DC. He was one of the most popular Governors in the country and now he's one of the most popular Senators in the country. Tested in a hypothetical reelection contest for next year against his toughest potential Republican opponent, he leads by a margin similar to what he won against a relatively lightweight opponent last year.
Manchin's approval rating is 52% with 32% of voters disapproving of him. Those numbers aren't quite as impressive as his Governor job approval ones were but they still put him in the top ten for popularity out of almost 70 Senators PPP has polled on over the last seven months. The group his numbers have really gone down with is liberals. They gave him an 86% approval as Governor but put him at 55% as a Senator. That's not terribly surprising given that he may be at odds with them on a lot of issues that were never really relevant to his position as Governor. But it's not like they're going to vote against him in a general election.
Shelley Moore Capito is very popular as well, with 54% of voters across the state holding a favorable opinion of her to only 30% with a negative one. In addition to being beloved by voters in her own party, independents rate her favorably by a 62/20 spread and she has an unusual level of crossover popularity with Democrats who break nearly even in their assessments of her, 42% positive and 43% negative. Despite Capito's popularity she would still start out nine points behind Manchin in a hypothetical contest at 50-41.
West Virginia has an enormous Democratic registration advantage so for a Republican to win there takes an incredibly unified party base and the ability to win somewhere along the lines of 30% of the Democratic vote. On both of those fronts Capito falls short. Manchin still wins 18% of the GOP vote, comparable to what our final preelection poll last year found for him against John Raese. And he holds Capito to 20% of the Democratic vote, actually a little less than what we found Raese getting. As popular as she is, challenging Manchin would still be quite an uphill battle for Capito.
Against a couple other potential Republican opponents we tested- new Congressman David McKinley and his opponent from last year, Raese, Manchin leads by considerably more dominant margins. It's 57-28 over McKinley who a majority of voters in the state still don't have an opinion about yet. And it's 60-31 over Raese, whose favorability rating with the state's voters is now an awful 30/52 spread. That's definitely not the direction Republicans want to go in again.
West Virginia's becoming a tougher state for Democrats in federal elections- a majority of the House delegation is now Republican and Barack Obama's chances of winning the state next year are pretty dim. Because of that Manchin's path forward is always going to be a little perilous, balancing his personal conservatism and that of the state against the goals of a Democratic Senate caucus that's far more liberal. But for now at least so far, so good- he continues to be an exceedingly formidable political presence.
Full results here