By Ben Geman - 09/20/12 06:35 PM EDT
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) declined to say on Thursday whether he’s supporting President Obama’s reelection bid.
“I’m not talking about people’s election, I’m talking about West Virginia, the economy, staying here and getting our job done. You should be worried about what we are doing here,” the West Virginia Democrat said in the Capitol when asked whether he’s supporting Obama.
He repeatedly declined to say if he is backing Obama for a second term.
Asked a second time, Manchin said, "I believe we should be here working, really working hard. Don’t you? As an American, don’t you think we should be here working?"
Asked a third time, he responded, “I’m supporting the American way of life, fixing our budgets, getting our house in order ... I am going to support whoever the next president may be to work with him to commit to fix this country. We need to do that."
When asked by The Hill if he was supporting GOP nominee Mitt Romney, the freshman senator said, "No."
In his floor speech, the senator encouraged colleagues to stay in Washington and work on the nation's fiscal problems instead of going home to campaign.
"Just give the American people the facts and show them the options — the way we did at our fiscal summit last week — and they will do their part to get this country back on the right path. They always have. That’s what makes this country great. So don’t sell them short just because this is an election year. They can tell when you’re dealing straight with them — or when you’re playing politics. And right now is not the time to play politics," he said.
West Virginia is tough territory for Obama, and Manchin has distanced himself from the White House.
Obama lost the state to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by 13 points in 2008 and is not expected to challenge Romney for the Mountain State’s electoral votes in November.
Earlier this year, Manchin, the state’s former governor, would not say whether he voted for Obama in the state’s Democratic primary in May, according to several reports. In that contest, a federal inmate received 41 percent of the vote against Obama.
Manchin also declined to attend the Democratic National Convention earlier this month in Charlotte, N.C.
Polling shows Manchin comfortably ahead of GOP Senate candidate John Raese, whom Manchin beat in the 2010 special election to fill the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D) seat.
Manchin, who hails from a major coal-producing state, has been strongly critical of Obama administration regulations, joining Republicans in alleging the Environmental Protection Agency is engaging in a “war on coal” with overly aggressive policies.
He joined most Republicans in June by voting for an unsuccessful resolution to overturn EPA rules that require curbs in toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants, and has criticized proposed carbon emission standards for new power plants.
Manchin’s 2010 campaign featured an ad in which he fired a rifle through a copy of cap-and-trade legislation.