- State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is the Republican challenging incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin in West Virginia.
- Morrisey is branding himself as the “polar opposite” of Manchin, who regularly touts his bipartisan work in the Senate.
- President Donald Trump won the state of West Virginia by nearly 50 points in 2016, which Morrisey believes is his ticket to unseat Manchin.
CHARLESTON, West Virginia – “I’m the polar opposite of flip-flopper Joe Manchin,” Republican Senate candidate Patrick Morrisey told an audience of about two dozen factory workers on Thursday.
“Literally, you should go online and see this. If you go online you start to see the memes – of Joe Manchin holding two different placards. Within three weeks, one saying he stands for Planned Parenthood and the other saying he stands for life. On the issue of life, you cannot have it both ways.”
Morrisey is running on being the anti-Joe Manchin in West Virginia, railing against the incumbent Democrat senator’s record of bipartisanship and often contentious voting choices. But Manchin is using that bipartisan aura to get him across the finish line in one of the hottest Senate races of the 2018 midterm elections.
For Morrisey, who for much of his career as state attorney general made a name for himself by suing and combatting the Obama administration, the race is about unseating a man he wants to paint as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s puppet.
Though Manchin votes in line with President Donald Trump’s policies more often than he does with Democrats (60.8% according to tracking by FiveThirtyEight), Morrisey says it is an effort to obstruct and “empower impeachment.”
Morrisey made it clear, through campaign stops and in an interview with Business Insider, that he is not like Manchin. Decisions won’t be up in the air until the final minutes of crucial votes, many topics will be non-negotiable, and perhaps most importantly for Morrisey, he has Trump’s stamp of approval.
“I think people are enthusiastic. They’re fired up,” he told Business Insider. “Because the stakes of this election are very high. West Virginia is at a critical juncture for control of the US Senate. Win in West Virginia, and we can put an end to this talk about having impeachment, obstruction, resistance.”
Trump won West Virginia in 2016 by nearly 68 points, compared to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s abysmal 26. Morrisey and his supporters are counting on that to put him over the top. But that challenge has proven more difficult compared to other competitive races where Democrats are up for re-election in conservative-leaning states.
Manchin is banking on the appeal of bipartisanship
However you frame it, Manchin has a well-known reputation in Washington and nationally as one of the least liberal or most conservative Democrats in the Senate. He voted for both of Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, but against the tax cuts. Pick an issue and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where he voted without looking it up.
“The people know who I am and I sure know West Virginia because I am West Virginia,” Manchin told Business Insider. “I think that’s the difference.”
On Wednesday, Manchin published four separate op-eds co-bylined with Republican senators across several West Virginia newspapers. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, and Marco Rubio of Florida all touted bipartisan work on key issues like health care and energy.
Having members of the opposite party go to bat for you in the final stretch of a campaign is support you can’t buy and praise you can only earn, Manchin said.
“I’ve never campaigned against a Republican in the center, I’ve never given money to a Democrat that’s running against a Republican in the Senate for incumbents,” he said. “I don’t think it should be done. I used to hear that’s the way it was done before. It’s an unwritten rule – you don’t do that.”
But Morrisey sees that as a problem. He knows he’s the right winger in the race and hopes everyone else in West Virginia takes notice.
“Everyone who follows the race knows I’m the conservative fire who’s going to advance the Trump jobs agenda and Joe Manchin’s a dishonest Washington liberal, who’s going to empower the impeach, obstruct, and resist circus in DC,” Morrisey told Business Insider. “And the more people see that, through the ads, through the appearances, then we’re going to allow us to come out on top.”
“Whether we’re talking about the Trump tax cuts, the deregulating, and the Trump judges, there’s so much good that’s being done right now we can’t go back,” he added.
Manchin said he “could understand that Patrick Morrisey would be envious” of his support from Republicans. “Because that’s not who he is.”
In agreement with Morrisey on how bipartisanship can be an obstacle to the Republican agenda is Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who hit the campaign trail in West Virginia in an attempt to bolster enthusiasm for unseating Manchin.
“Here’s the thing, the other senator, the one you’ve got now, says, ‘Oh I’m bipartisan! I’m for both sides!'” Paul said of Manchin. “Well he’s for all the bad ideas that come from both sides.”
But Manchin laughed off support from Paul, saying, “that helps me.”
“I’m glad Rand came here because I don’t think Rand’s that popular in West Virginia or in that part of Kentucky,” he said.
The calvary is coming in for Morrisey in the final two and a half weeks until Election Day. Vice President Mike Pence is stumping for Morrisey on Saturday, with personalities like Donald Trump Jr. to follow on Monday.
“Mike Pence, I know Mike Pence and he’s just – I guess – doing his job,” Manchin said. “Well he’s a junkyard dog right now I guess. He has to go out and do it. And then they send Donald [Trump] Jr. God bless you, come on in.”
“I’d rather have Jerry West. I’d rather have Bob Huggins. I’d rather have Nick Saban,” Manchin said in reference to a recent ad touting support from the sports legends. “I’ll take those three over those three any day.”
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