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On Thursday, Manchin announced that he would not seek reelection. This may be a function of his long-standing interest in joining a nonpartisan or bipartisan presidential ticket, something that would almost certainly not result in Manchin heading to the White House.
It may also be a function of his realizing that his odds of winning reelection for the third time are very small — thanks, again, to his state’s rightward shift.
In early 2021, when Manchin, as a swing vote in a split Senate was near the apex of his influence, I graphed the presidential and Senate vote in West Virginia since the late 1990s. You can see, below, how the orange circles (presidential votes in each county) shift to the right. You can see how the purple circles (Senate votes in each county) do too — except in 2012 and 2018.
What happened in 2012 and 2018? Manchin, the popular, moderate ex-governor, was the Democratic candidate for Senate. Other Democrats tried to join him in Washington in 2014 and 2020. Neither carried a single county.
It used to be that it was common for states to vote for a candidate of one party for president and of the other party for the Senate. It was common relatively recently, in fact. From 2002 to 2010, it happened more than 40 times (comparing midterm Senate results to the average of the previous and following presidential races). From 2012 to 2022, though, it happened a bit over a dozen times — including twice with Manchin in West Virginia.
You can see, below, how the results in Senate and presidential races have begun to align along a diagonal over time. Not only are the winners of both contests from the same party, the margins by which they have won are similar.
So we see the state-level results line up from lower left (Democratic dominance in both contests) to the upper right (Republican dominance) along the dashed line. And you can see how far Manchin — the big “WV” — deviates from those diagonals.
You can also see that in the 2018 results, there are a few other senators who share that same lower-right, Democratic-senator/Republican-president quadrant.
They include Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.). That’s what undoubtedly has Democratic Party officials sweating at the moment. Their thin margin in the Senate depended on holding their seats in those three red states — and now Manchin gives up his incumbency, making the party’s job that much harder.
It’s worse than that, of course. If this movement away from split-ticket representation in the Senate continues, it means that control of the upper chamber will necessitate the Democrats bolstering their position in a number of more rural, heavily Republican states — while their base of power continues to be urban centers.
Manchin sticking around wouldn’t have made the party’s chances that much higher, certainly, but his retirement does make things trickier. Of course, “Joe Manchin III making the Democratic Party’s position trickier” is also his political brand, so it’s hard to be surprised.
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