West Virginia GOP Seeks Rare Unseating of Democratic US Senator in 2018
Joe Manchin is attempting to win the 21st consecutive U.S. Senate reelection bid by a Mountain State Democrat
Earlier this week two-term Republican Congressman Evan Jenkins of West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District told GOP leaders that he intended to challenge conservative Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin during his reelection bid next year.
Manchin’s seat is one of many Republican targets in 2018 – particularly because of the state’s overwhelming support for Donald Trump in 2016 and the GOP winning its first U.S. Senate election in 58 years in 2014 (Shelley Moore Capito).
But, unlike 2014, when the GOP was able to win an open seat caused by the retirement of Jay Rockefeller, Senator Manchin still commands considerable support in the increasingly GOP-leaning state.
Moreover, even though their control over state and federal legislative seats has waned considerably in recent years, West Virginia Democrats have nonetheless proven to still be quite competitive and win statewide races.
Following the victory of extremely unpopular (in the state) Barack Obama in 2008, West Virginia Democrats have won 10 of 16 statewide elections.
Manchin is hoping the power of incumbency and his track record of being an independent voice in a party increasingly dominated by progressives will stave off a fierce Republican campaign to unseat him next year. [Jenkins is expected to be one of multiple high profile GOPers gunning for the nomination].
To be sure, incumbency has served senate Democrats well in the state for decades.
Looking back at the state’s electoral history, West Virginia Democratic U.S. Senators have currently won 20 consecutive reelection bids dating back to the mid-1940s.
Harley Kilgore won reelection twice (1946, 1952), Matthew Neely once (1954), Jennings Randolph four times (1960, 1966, 1972, 1978), Robert Byrd eight times (1964, 1970, 1976, 1982, 1988, 1994, 2000, 2006), Jay Rockefeller four times (1990, 1996, 2002, 2008), and Manchin once (2012).
Meanwhile, Republican U.S. Senators from the Mountain State have never won a reelection bid:
- 1918: Nathan Goff did not run
- 1922: Howard Sutherland was defeated by former U.S. Representative Matthew Neely
- 1924: Davis Elkins did not run
- 1930: Guy Goff did not run
- 1934: Henry Hatfield lost to state Delegate Rush Holt
- 1948: W. Chapman Revercomb lost to former U.S. Senator and Governor Matthew Neely
- 1958 (special): John Hoblitzell lost to academic dean and Capital Airlines executive Jennings Randolph
- 1958: W. Chapman Revercomb lost to U.S. Representative Robert Byrd
Since the state’s first direct election for the office in 1916, four Democratic incumbents were unsuccessful in their quest for another term.
- 1916: William Chilton, who was not popularly elected, lost to U.S. Representative Howard Sutherland
- 1928: Matthew Neely was defeated by former Governor Henry Hatfield (Neely also won a 1936 reelection bid)
- 1940: Rush Holt lost his party’s nomination to Judge Harley Kilgore
- 1942 (special): Appointed U.S. Senator Joseph Rosier lost to former Congressman Hugh Shott
As of Manchin’s October 2016 (Q3) filing, the senator had in excess of $1.6 million cash on hand for his reelection campaign.
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“…still commands considerable support…” So did Senators R Lugar (IN; @ this point in the 2011-12 cycle), A Specter (PA; ditto for the 2009-10 cycle), and other cases in earlier years and decades.