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West Virginia Re-Emerges as 2018 Battleground

West Virginia was won by Donald Trump by 42 points in the 2016 presidential election: The president, running on a message of renewal for blue-collar Americans, took 69% of the vote and every county in the state.

In the wake of Clinton's big defeat, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin -- up for reelection in 2018 -- immediately appeared to be an endangered incumbent.

Patrick Morrisey

Democratic spirits were uplifted when it became clear that Don Blankenship, a disgraced coal baron, had a chance of becoming the Republican candidate. However, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a highly-qualified candidate, took the party mantle instead. He is well-known for leading "a coalition of 27 states and a host of industry groups in their fight against new limits on carbon emissions," which was successful in the courts.

In West Virginia, which produces 15% of the nation's fossil fuels, former President Barack Obama's so-called "war on coal" had real-world ramifications. As a result, it is obvious that being an anti-regulation crusader is politically preferable to being an ally of Hillary Clinton, who said that she wanted to "put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business."

Joe Manchin with Hillary Clinton

Despite the fact that Morrisey, a champion for West Virginia interests, was nominated rather than Blankenship, RealClearPolitics, an election handicapper, moved their rating of the Senate contest from a tossup to "lean Democratic" in mid-July. This shift was evidentially based on a Trafalgar Group poll, conducted from July 13th to July 16th, that showed Manchin ahead by 10 points.

However, it is becoming clear that West Virginia, where only five major polls have been conducted since June, is reemerging as a 2018 Senate battleground. An 1892 Polling survey shows Morrisey and Manchin at 45% each. 22% of independent voters are undecided, and Morrisey leads by four points within the bloc, showing that the race is far from over.

Even RCP, with its "lean Democratic" rating for the race, betrays that "polling showing [Manchin] at 46 percent has to concern him some.  The undecideds are undoubtedly Trump voters in this state, and could be difficult for him to win back."

This comes as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) is "pulling about two weeks worth of ad reservations from West Virginia in October," possibly demonstrating Democratic overconfidence about Manchin's chances (and signaling a wide opening for the GOP).

It is unclear what propelled Morrisey from 38.5% -- his standing in the polling average -- to 45%, but a host of factors likely play a role.

Patrick Morrisey & Donald Trump

For one, Trump -- whose approval is 57% to 38% in West Virginia, per 1892 Polling -- recently held a rally for Morrisey in Charleston, the state's capital, and another event is planned for Saturday in Wheeling. Media coverage from these events has flooded the airwaves in the state, and columnists knowledgable about West Virginia politics have said that Morrisey could still benefit from a major Trump bump.

Secondly, Morrisey recently unleashed his first ad of the cycle, which touts his blue-collar background and his support from the president. Manchin has already been prolific in airing advertisements for his campaign, which have hammered Morrisey and perhaps dampened the attorney general's poll numbers. Now that Morrisey is fighting back, Manchin is not able to spew his venom as easily.

Thirdly, West Virginia voters may be motivated to support Morrisey because of the Supreme Court fight. Per a Public Opinion Strategies poll, 58% of the voters in the state support Judge Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation, including 59% of the independents and 42% of the Democrats.

Joe Manchin's party has launched an unprecedented smear campaign against Kavanaugh, and despite the fact that he has not committed to voting against the judge's confirmation, West Virginians could see him as being guilty by association.

It should also be considered that major pollsters have missed the mark with Manchin in the past. In his 2012 race against perennial candidate John Raese, Manchin's support was pegged at 33.3% in the polls; he won by 24.1%. That means that his support was overestimated by 9.2% (which just happens to be .1% less than what he leads by in the 2018 polling average, a barometer that currently doesn't include the 1892 Polling survey).

Considering all of the dynamics of the West Virginia race -- visits from a popular incumbent president, past overestimation of support for Manchin, Democrat financial withdrawal, dedication to the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh, and high "undecided" levels -- it is certainly not a "lean Democratic" contest.

For Manchin, the last Democrat who holds statewide office in West Virginia, the race is a tossup at best.