Will Manchin's vote to confirm Kavanaugh save his seat?

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin is in the political fight of his life as he seeks to win a second full term against Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrissey. Manchin, one of the most popular politicians of either party in the state's history, is ahead by only 4 points in the latest polls.

As popular as Manchin is, he has a monumental problem. Donald Trump carried West Virginia by 40 points in the 2016 election and remains hugely popular with a 58% approval rating in the state. The political winds are blowing hard against Manchin as the state, once a bastion of Democratic rule, turns deeper and deeper red.

So it was no suprise that Manchin came out in favor of confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Or was it? Two other red state Democratic senators in tight re-election races - North Dakota's Heidi Heitkamp and Indiana's Joe Donnelly - both voted the Kavanaugh nomination down.

The pressure on Manchin to vote "no" from national Democrats and hysterical activists must have been overwhelming. 

The Hill:

Manchin’s answers to reporters justifying his position were drowned out by a group of women protesters chanting at him “Look at us!” and “shame!” 

Manchin looked uncomfortable as he tried to hear reporters' questions over the angry crowd.

But far more important to Manchin's chances is how West Virginia Democrats feel about his vote. It's a good bet that local Democrats support his decision, considering the senator has worked with the president on several issues important to all West Virginia voters and many Democrats in the state are in agreement with much of the Trump agenda. 

If Manchin had voted "no" on Kavanaugh, it would have been difficult for him to win reelection, but not impossible. His personal popularity with all voters gives him a big advantage that Morrissey can't match. As it is now, Manchin's chances of winning in November have improved.

The same cannot be said for other red state Democrats like Donnelly and Heitkamp. The North Dakota Democrat is already 10 points down and may have seen her "no" vote on Kavanaugh as a way to energize her base of Democratic voters. I think she will find a lot less enthusiasm among state Democrats for opposing Kavanaugh than she might get from national Dems and liberal activists. Neither group will help very much in her uphill climb to win reelection.

Joe Donnelly is running neck and neck with Trump favorite Mike Braun in Indiana, but there are a more Democrats in the Hoosier state than there are in West Virginia or North Dakota. State Democrats might have punished Donnelly for deserting the party on Kavanaugh - something the incumbent can't afford if he is to overcome Braun.

For Manchin, Donnelly, and Heitkamp, the political calculus that led to their votes was different, but all arrived at a decision they thought were consistent with their conscience and would do them the most good/least harm in their reelection bids. 



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