Popular W.Va. Governor In Tight Race For Senate
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
And we start this hour with politics and fresh evidence that this is, indeed, a tough political climate for just about any Democrat - incumbent or not. Exhibit A: West Virginia.
Up for grabs is the U.S. Senate seat held for more than half a century by Democrat Robert Byrd. The Democrat now trying to succeed him is the state's popular governor, Joe Manchin. And we mean popular. He has an approval rating most politicians only dream of. According to at least one recent poll, nearly 70 percent of West Virginians approve of the job he's doing. On top of that, Manchin has also been endorsed by the NRA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
So, why is he only running neck and neck with Republican John Raese, who's already lost two previous bids for the Senate? Well, Governor Manchin joins us now from Parkersburg, West Virginia. Welcome, Governor.
Governor JOE MANCHIN (Democrat, West Virginia): Thank you for having me, Michele.
NORRIS: Now, could you explain this for us? As we said, you're very popular there in your home state. You've got endorsements across the aisle. Why are you having such a tough time of it in this race?
Gov. MANCHIN: Well...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Gov. MANCHIN: ...I'm as confused probably as most people are right now. What's happening is that they're scaring - we call it a fear-and-smear campaign. They're scaring people to death that I will do things I've never done, that I'm somebody I'm not. And you know what? If you spend enough money and you say it enough, sometimes it kind of creeps in. And people are saying: My goodness, would that really happen?
And what we're trying to make sure they understand: Look at what we've done. In West Virginia, we've usually chosen our leaders because of how they have performed. If you like what we've done - and everything they're complaining about in Washington are things we've started repairing. And, right now, Michele, we're rated as one of the best states financially in the nation. We haven't laid anybody off. We haven't cut one service in West Virginia, and we're still lowering taxes.
NORRIS: Do you feel like you have to run away from the president right now?
Gov. MANCHIN: You know, I've been my own person all my life, and I think I was elected based on what I had done prior being in the legislature, being a private businessperson, being a centrist trying to bring people together, unite, and I really believe that. I don't believe you move the ball forward at all unless you have everybody understanding what the play is going to be. And we've done it as well, if not better, than anybody in the country.
I just want to take that same fight, if you will, and that same attitude to Washington. And - but running against, it's not that. There's things I disagree. I have just sued the Environmental Protection Agency because I truly believe they have overreached trying to tell me what and how we should run our state.
NORRIS: Is it possible that voters might be a bit confused about who's really running for the Senate, and what you stand for? I'm going to ask you about cap and trade in just a minute, but I'll give you another example. You once supported President Obama's health care bill, and there are several indications now that you've changed your position. Is it possible that people are confused about what you would stand for?
Gov. MANCHIN: Well, we've heard that quite - I've heard that quite a bit and people, of course, on the campaign trail. I've always been for health reform. As a governor - and I think most governors, Democrat and Republican, know that we could not sustain what we've had.
In West Virginia, the most vulnerable part of my society, Michele, is working people. If you get up and go to work in the morning, you're more likely not to have insurance than any other part of my society, whether if you're older, you have a little bit of Medicare or Medicaid if you're poor. If you're a child, you have the CHIPS program. So it's the working people. And I was always committed towards that, but double-digit growth in health care and still have the unhealthy conditions, something had to change. So, yes, I have said I support health reform. You have to move the ball forward.
Now, with that, that bill comes down to a very onerous bill at the end, which I understand very few people in Congress even read the bill. We're hearing bits and pieces. And once we saw the whole thing unfold, there's many parts of that I think that need to be changed and fixed and repealed.
NORRIS: You have called for repealing things that you say are, quote, bad in the bill. What specifically do you want to repeal?
Gov. MANCHIN: 1099. You take the 1099 provision, That 1099 provision states that, you know, if you have more than $600 expenditure as a small business person, you have to report. That's very onerous. I mean, it's just -that's tough. It doesn't make any sense whatsoever. The mandates, I think there's an awful lot of in the mandates that dictates what you will and where you will and how you're going to buy and what you're going to receive from that. That is not something that would set well for any of us in West Virginia.
And then on top of that, the firewall for the abortions was not strong enough to keep and prevent the states from really paying for funded - public-funded abortions.
NORRIS: So you're a Democrat who now says that you're willing to work across the aisle with Republicans. In the 2008 election, you were a strong supporter of President Barack Obama, but you have a new ad out that's clearly attempting to put some distance between yourself and the president. Before we go on, let's just take a quick listen to that.
(Soundbite of political ad)
Gov. MANCHIN: As your senator, I'll protect our Second Amendment rights. That's why the NRA endorsed me. I'll take on Washington and this administration to get the federal government off of our backs and out of our pockets. I'll cut federal spending, and I'll repeal the bad parts of Obamacare. I sued EPA, and I'll take dead aim...
(Soundbite of gunshot)
Gov. MANCHIN: ...at the cap and trade bill...
(Soundbite of rifle reloading)
Gov. MANCHIN: ...because it's bad for West Virginia.
NORRIS: Governor Manchin, you're loading a rifle there, and what we hear there is that you're shooting a copy of the cap and trade bill. It seems like a bit of theatrics there in that ad. Why would you go there?
Gov. MANCHIN: Well, I think in West Virginia, first of all, you know, that's how we were born and raised. We do a lot of shooting and hunting. And that's who I am. Next of all, I was proud to be endorsed by the NRA, which I've always been. And, next of all, I think that cap and trade is absolutely the most wrong piece of legislation that could just destroy the economy, not just of my state, but this nation. And I've been very strong about that.
And we talk about Democrats and Republicans, I've worked as a West Virginian. I'm a Democrat who works with all sides of the aisle, and I think everybody will tell you that in West Virginia. We've been successful. And I've had the support of Democrats, Republicans and independents, Michele, because of that. And I think that's what they're lacking. If they would put their country before their party, they might be a little bit better off in Washington.
NORRIS: Governor Joe Manchin, thank you very much for making time for us.
Gov. MANCHIN: Thank you for having me.
NORRIS: That's Governor Joe Manchin, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in West Virginia.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.