Manchin Momentum Post-"Hicky" Ad?

Manchin Momentum Post-"Hicky" Ad?

By Scott Conroy - October 12, 2010

In a Senate race that remains particularly fluid with three weeks to go before Election Day, West Virginia's Democratic Governor Joe Manchin has retaken a slight lead over Republican businessman John Raese, according to a survey released on Tuesday by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling (PPP).

Manchin's 48 percent to 45 percent advantage among likely voters in the new poll was a six-point improvement from his standing in the last PPP poll in the state, which was released three weeks ago.

The new PPP survey was conducted after Manchin took advantage of the fallout caused by a Raese ad paid for by the NRSC, which solicited "hicky" looking actors in Philadelphia to portray West Virginians who were critical of the Democratic candidate.

Though subsequent reporting showed the NRSC was not behind the use of the term "hicky," the flap fit perfectly into Manchin's efforts to play up his own humble, everyman persona -- which has helped make him an extremely popular governor -- while casting Raese as a jet-setting opportunist.

Manchin responded quickly with his own advertisement, which told voters that Raese "thinks we're hicks" and tied in a corresponding jab at the Republican for maintaining a lavish residence in Palm Beach, Florida. "Obviously, we're not good enough for him," a woman says in the ad.

The new PPP poll also suggests that Manchin may be benefiting from an awakening of his base in a state where Democrats enjoy a large voter registration advantage. Most political watchers did not even deem the West Virginia race to be competitive until last month.

According to the poll, Manchin's approval rating stood at 68 percent, which PPP said was the highest it has measured for any politician in this election cycle. Even 50 percent of West Virginia Republicans approved of the job the governor was doing.

By contrast, Raese's favorability rating plummeted to 39 percent, as Manchin's portrayal of his Republican opponent as aloof and out of touch appears to have resonated.

But the West Virginia race's status as a toss-up remains a testament to Raese's success in nationalizing the contest in a state where Barack Obama's approval rating stands at a dismal 33 percent -- the lowest of any of the 32 states that PPP has polled this year.

While acknowledging his opponent's popularity as governor, Raese has relentlessly portrayed Manchin as a potential "rubber stamp" for Obama.

On Monday, Raese picked up the endorsement of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who said that the Republican has "the courage and independence to stand up to the Washington politics of Reid and Pelosi."

Manchin has become increasingly aggressive in distancing himself from national Democrats. He told RealClearPolitics last month that he would favor repealing some provisions of the health care law, and in a new ad, Manchin is seen literally shooting the Cap and Trade bill, which remains enormously unpopular in West Virginia.

But the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) has also doubled down on its efforts in support of Raese.

On Tuesday, the NRSC released a new round of radio ads replaying an old Manchin soundbyte in which the governor said he is "totally behind health care reform."

The NRSC also launched a full-page ad in four of West Virginia's biggest newspapers, featuring a photograph of Manchin standing next to Obama.

Perhaps more than any other race in this election cycle, the West Virginia Senate battle appears likely to come down to whether statewide dynamics or the national political climate wins out.

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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