- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 25, 2018

A pair of polls released this week tell very different stories in West Virginia’s hotly contested Senate race, giving each party something to cling to as the candidates hone their closing pitches to voters in the final two weeks before Election Day.

An Oct. 21 survey conducted for Gray Television gave incumbent Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III a commanding 16-point edge over his challenger, Republican state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. That’s the largest lead of any poll released in the race and suggests that Mr. Manchin — widely viewed as an excellent retail politician with his finger on the pulse of his conservative state — will score an easy win.

Republicans have long seen West Virginia as an opportunity to snatch a Senate seat from Democrats, given that President Trump carried the state by more than 40 points in the 2016 election and nearly 60 percent of voters there approve of his job performance. But Mr. Manchin has appealed to Republicans and conservative-leaning independents throughout his campaign, most notably by backing Mr. Trump’s pick of Brett M. Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court and touting his work with Republicans on health care, veterans’ issues and other matters.

It seems the strategy is working, pollsters say.

“While some voters may change their minds in the final weeks of the campaign, Manchin has crossed the 50 percent threshold and appears to be closing the door on his Republican challenger with less than three weeks to go before Election Day,” said James Henson, a partner at Strategic Research Associates, which conducted the poll.

In that poll, conducted Oct. 12 to Oct. 19, 52 percent of voters say they back Mr. Manchin, while 36 percent favor Mr. Morrisey.

But another survey commissioned by the GOP shows that Mr. Manchin is highly vulnerable.

In their survey, Republican pollsters Fabrizio, Lee & Associates found that Mr. Morrisey holds a 2-point edge over Mr. Manchin, with 44 percent of West Virginia voters backing their state attorney general and 42 percent supporting the incumbent Democrat. About 3 percent support Libertarian Rusty Hollen, the poll shows, while a key 12 percent of voters are undecided.

The survey has a 4-point margin of error, suggesting that the contest is a virtual tie.

Still, Republicans believe the poll shows their attacks on Mr. Manchin — including campaign stops across West Virginia in recent days from high-profile figures such as Vice President Mike Pence and Donald Trump Jr., both of whom hammered the incumbent as an out-of-step liberal — are paying dividends down the stretch.

“West Virginians know that dishonest Washington liberal Joe Manchin stood with Hillary Clinton, and continues to side with the impeach, obstruct, and resist circus in Washington,” said Nathan Brand, spokesman for the Morrisey campaign. 

At a campaign rally this week, Donald Trump Jr. struck a similar note, dubbing Mr. Manchin “Schumer’s little pet.” He was referring to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat who, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, is a frequent target for Republicans in races across the country.

In addition to touting his bipartisan bent, Mr. Manchin’s closing message has centered on painting Mr. Morrisey as a shill for the pharmaceutical industry, tying him directly to the opioid crisis that has become an epidemic in West Virginia. Prior to becoming the state’s attorney general, Mr. Morrisey did lobbying work for the pharmaceutical sector.

“Once a lobbyist, always a lobbyist. Patrick Morrisey is still doing the dirty work of the opioid industry that’s ravaging West Virginia,” Mr. Manchin tweeted this week.

Democrats have rejected the Fabrizio, Lee & Associates poll. The most recent Real Clear Politics average of all polls puts Mr. Manchin up by 12 percentage points.

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