INWOOD, W.Va. — Republicans are mounting a last-ditch effort to unseat Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who is stubbornly holding on to a lead in this state that President Donald Trump won by 42 points.
On Monday, Donald Trump Jr. and former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle rallied supporters for GOP candidate Patrick Morrisey and rained down insults on Manchin, following a weekend visit from Vice President Mike Pence. Citizens United laid down a $500,000 ad buy touting Morrisey as the “only candidate we can trust.” And President Donald Trump is considering a visit here just before Election Day, according to a Republican familiar with party deliberations.
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“We want the president to come back here. This president’s been a difference-maker in this race. We’re in a good position to close,” Morrisey said in an interview after his rally with the president’s son. “We think the president’s going to come back.”
With Pence, Trump. Jr. and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) all campaigning with Morrisey lately, the question has shifted to what the president will do. His time is valuable: There are only two weeks left until the election, and perhaps a half-dozen Senate races where Trump could help help spur GOP turnout.
Trump is said to be considering a visit to the southern part of West Virginia, where he is highly popular. But Manchin said it won’t make a difference.
Morrisey is “trying to make it basically an election between President Trump and me. The bottom line is: I’m West Virginia. President Trump’s not on the ballot. Pat, you’re on the ballot. Face up to it,” Manchin said during an interview in Martinsburg, W.Va., on Saturday. “The president and all of his merry men cannot hide his record.”
A Trump visit could tighten the race, which has gotten away from Morrisey of late. He insists the race is tied in his internal polls, but public polls indicate the West Virginia attorney general would have to mount a major comeback to beat Manchin. One survey on Monday from Strategic Research Associates showed Manchin up 16 points.
Faced with polling data, Morrisey’s supporters insist the race has changed and surveys simply aren’t picking it up.
“A month ago, six weeks ago, I was not as sure as I am now that Patrick’s going to win,” said Republican state Sen. Charles Trump, who is not related to the president. “Something has changed. It may just be that people are feeling that they can’t be complacent.”
With the latest data suggesting that Manchin may be more difficult to dislodge than senators in states like Missouri, Indiana, Montana and Florida, National Republicans have some decisions to make as well.
Even with the new Citizens United buy, pro-Manchin groups are set to outspend Republicans by a nearly 2-to-1 margin over the final two weeks, according to advertising data. The Senate Leadership Fund, which has spent more than $5 million in the race, has $750,000 in ads booked this week but none booked for next week.
Morrisey said he’s “hopeful” that ads on his behalf will continue despite his uphill climb.
Some people from both parties say the race is closer than polls indicate.
“It’s tough sledding but Morrisey has a shot,” said a Republican senator tracking the race, adding that there’s “no way” Manchin is up by 16 points.
“It’s going to be close. It’s tightened up,” agreed former Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), a surrogate for Manchin.
The race has gotten nasty as Election Day approaches. On Monday, Guilfoyle called Manchin “swampy Joe” and a “political coward,” while Trump Jr. said Manchin is Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s “little pet.” Morrisey labeled Manchin a “dishonest Washington liberal,” while Manchin hit back that Morrisey, a former lobbyist, is ready to cut a “sweetheart deal” with the drug companies over the damage they’ve done to West Virginia.
Their in-person interactions can be snippy as well: In Martinsburg last weekend, Morrisey told Manchin that Senate Majority Leader McConnell did Manchin a “favor” earlier this month by having the Senate go on recess for the rest of October and allowing the Democrat to campaign. The two have yet to debate: Their only face-off will be Nov. 1, a crucial opportunity for the Republican.
Fueling Morrisey’s campaign is the frustration Republicans have with Manchin and his voting record. He’s rarely the deciding vote for the president’s agenda, but was the only Democrat to support Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and has positioned himself as a flexible, reasonable voice amid a sea of die-hard Senate partisans.
Even some Morrisey supporters concede Manchin’s vote on Kavanaugh has aided him.
“What really helped Manchin in our area is when he punched the ticket for Kavanaugh,” said Brian Youncker, 48, of Bunker Hill, W.Va., a former Manchin supporter who attended the Morrisey rally on Monday. “I think Manchin will pull it out … It was gutsy to do what he did.”
In the closing stretch, Morrisey is attacking Manchin for not supporting a West Virginia ballot referendum that would amend the state Constitution to say that nothing in it “secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.” For Republicans, it encapsulates why Manchin is so maddening: He says he’s an anti-abortion rights Democrat, but hasn’t endorsed the ballot measure.
“We’ll just see what happens, OK? Why do you want an answer on that? There’s so many important things,” Manchin said when pressed about his position. “If it doesn’t have incest, rape and life of the mother exceptions in it, it’s the wrong thing to be on the ballot. I don’t think it does, and they keep saying it does.”
The ballot question does not include an explicit exemption for those situations, but Morrisey says he’s studied the issue and contends that existing law would provide exceptions for rape, incest and endangering the life of the mother.
In front of a crowd of several hundred supporters on the state’s Eastern Panhandle on Monday, Morrisey drew some of the day’s loudest applause when he touted his support for the ballot measure.
Morrisey’s attacks on social issues, references to Schumer and Nancy Pelosi and another visit from the president still might not be enough to unseat Manchin. But Manchin, the state’s former governor, said he’s taking nothing for granted, despite growing confidence among Democrats that he’s got it in the bag.
“I don’t believe polls,” Manchin said, but “I’d rather be in my position than his position, let’s put it that way.”
James Arkin and Alex Isenstadt contributed to this report.