- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 9, 2018

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia enters the general election campaign with a huge financial advantage as he prepares to defend his seat in November against Republican Patrick Morrisey.

Morrisey, a two-term state attorney general, defeated a congressman and a former coal company executive with deep pockets in the Republican primary Tuesday to earn the chance to challenge Manchin. The incumbent easily won the Democratic primary as he seeks his second full six-year term in a race that’s widely regarded as one of the best GOP takeover opportunities.

Manchin, who has held elected office in West Virginia for the better part of three decades, is expected to face the most difficult re-election campaign of his career against the comparative newcomer Morrisey.

“Batten the hatches. It’s going to be a long ride,” Robert Rupp, a political history professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College, said Wednesday.

Manchin outraised Morrisey by a more than 2-to-1 margin during the primary campaign. The difference in cash on hand was much greater - Manchin’s campaign reported $5.3 million in his latest federal filing, compared to $835,000 for Morrisey.

Rupp said money may not be that much of a liability for Morrisey, who can expect a boost from outside groups to cut into Manchin’s advantage in individual contributions, which were $3.1 million in the primary. Manchin’s campaign has said he had more than 11,000 donors in the primary.

Morrisey also must deal with another disparity - 43 percent of West Virginia voters are registered Democrats, compared to 32 percent registered Republicans. Yet West Virginia gave President Donald Trump his largest margin of victory in 2016 and has trended hard toward Republicans in recent years.

Rupp said Manchin will have to “stand against the red tide” in West Virginia.

“It’s going to be hard for him to do it,” Rupp said.

Morrisey was the lone Republican to hold statewide office after he was elected in 2012. The GOP now controls five of the six offices.

In the 2014 election, Republicans claimed majorities in both houses of the Legislature for the first time in eight decades, and Shelley Moore Capito became the first GOP U.S. senator elected in West Virginia in more than a half century.

In his primary win, Morrisey credited a Monday tweet from Trump, who told Republican voters to support him or Rep. Evan Jenkins and not former coal executive Don Blankenship. Trump now must decide how aggressively he’ll back Morrisey over Manchin, who is one of Trump’s only allies among Senate Democrats on many votes.

In his Tuesday night victory speech, Morrisey invited the president to make frequent visits between now and November.

“I think the president is going to be a huge ally in this race,” he said in an interview.

Manchin touts himself as a bipartisan problem solver who works “for West Virginians.”

He said he has a “good relationship” with the president and is always willing to work with him. He expects GOP leaders to make sure the White House backs his opponent but has a message for Republicans who have supported him.

“If it makes sense for West Virginia, makes sense to me, I vote for it, doesn’t matter whether it’s Democrat or Republican,” Manchin said.

Manchin at times has expressed frustration with partisan gridlock in Washington, including in 2016 when he weighed a campaign to return to the governor’s office. That theme played out again during this year’s primary campaign, when Manchin used the phrase “Washington sucks” in advertising and again in his nomination statement.

“Some people in Washington care more about dividing us and playing politics than getting to work and solving these problems,” he said. “I’ve always believed you can’t build anything up if you’re tearing each other down. That’s got to change.”

Immediately after his primary win, Morrisey went after Manchin, saying he “has failed our state.” Morrisey said he’ll put his record of fighting the state’s opioid epidemic up again the former governor’s.

Morrisey took heat from Jenkins during the primary about his New Jersey roots but doesn’t expect that to be a problem in the fall campaign.

“My record reflects the strong West Virginia values that most people have,” Morrisey said.

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