Five Takeaways from West Virginia’s Senate debate
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Republican West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey battled on Thursday night in the first, and only, debate in the crucial Senate race.
Manchin and Morrisey traded barbs about everything from healthcare to immigration while their support for President Trump and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton loomed large over the hour-long debate.
Though the West Virginia appears to be tightening in the final days of the midterm election, Manchin maintained a five point lead in two recent polls.
Here are five takeaway’s from Thursday night’s debate:
Trump’s support looms over the debate
Morrisey sought to tie himself as closely as possible to Trump, highlighting his support for the president’s tax cuts, his judicial nominations and his immigration rhetoric.
“He votes like a senator from New Jersey,” Morrisey said of his opponent. “…That’s very different than a conservative fighter for President Trump. I’m going to work with this president to cut taxes, to reduce regulations on the hardworking job creators of our state.”
Trump, who carried the state by 42 percentage points in the 2016 election, will pay a final visit to West Virginia before Election Day with a campaign rally on Friday to boost Morrisey.
The Republican candidate echoed Trump’s rhetoric throughout the debate, referring to “obstructionist Democrats,” claiming Democrats support “open borders,” mentioning Clinton multiple times and asserting an approaching caravan of migrants is a “direct result” of Democratic policies.
“It’s unbelievable,” Morrisey said.
“It is unbelievable,” Manchin replied with a chuckle.
Manchin painted himself as a bipartisan lawmaker willing to break with his party and work with the president on matters of importance.
Manchin noted that he was the lone Democrat to vote for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and one of three Democrats to vote for Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
“I want him to succeed and do well, and I want to help him do well,” Manchin said of Trump. “I stand up and support him when it’s good for West Virginia, and when it’s not I stand up to him.”
Immigration emerges as flashpoint
The national immigration fight spilled into the West Virginia debate, with Manchin and Morrisey sparring about border security, if undocumented immigrants should be given a pathway to legal status and Trump’s call to end birthright citizenship.
Morrisey accused Manchin of supporting “open borders,” and being on “both sides” of the Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall and blamed Democrats for a migrant caravan heading for the U.S.-Mexico border.
Manchin countered by touting his bipartisan credentials, arguing he supports border security and name dropping Republican senators, including the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who backed the 2013 “Gang of Eight” immigration bill.
“I’ve been against sanctuary cities. I’ve clamped down. …I think we should do everything we can do secure the borders,” Manchin said.
Neither Manchin nor Morrisey said if they would support ending birthright citizenship. Several GOP Senate candidates have dodged when pressed on the issue this week.
Manchin said it was “worthy of looking at” but that Trump couldn’t alter the 14th Amendment through an executive order, as he’s claimed this week.
“I think the president needs to say what he intends to do, ask the legislature to basically put the bill up see if it gets the vote to go on. …But he cannot do it by executive order,” Manchin said.
Morrisey, who had remained silent on Trump’s plan, said he needed to review Trump’s potential executive order “to make sure we’re handling it the right way.”
Both sides aim to vilify Washington
Manchin and Morrisey each attempted to portray the other as a political insider unwilling to protect the interests of average West Virginians.
The Republican recited one of Trump’s signature campaign lines in vowing to “drain the swamp” of political insiders.
“We’re going to be sure to drain that swamp,” Morrisey said. “I support term limits.”
Morrisey repeatedly went on the offensive during the debate, labeling Manchin a “dishonest Washington liberal” at least half a dozen times.
He repeatedly linked Manchin to Clinton, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and other prominent Democrats on immigration, economic and social policy.
Manchin pushed back against Morrisey’s constant attacks on Democrats, suggesting it reflected the broader political divisions across the country.
“Quit acting like you belong to some tribe,” Manchin said. “We belong to the American tribe.”
The Democrat sought to paint Morrisey as out of touch, pointing to the attorney general’s out-of-state roots and lobbying connections, arguing that the Republican profited off of the opioid crisis.
“Here’s a person who has basically made a living lobbying in the swamp … in Washington,” Manchin said.
He went on to suggest that Morrisey would be unwilling to oppose Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who Manchin argued has “fought the miners on getting their pension and healthcare for three years.”
Morrisey hopes Hillary Clinton is still a boogeyman
Morrisey name-checked Clinton dozens of times during the roughly hour-long debate as he tried to build a link between Manchin and the 2016 candidate, who won roughly 26 percent of the vote in the 2016 election.
“He’s operating in Hillary Clinton’s universe, making all the facts up,” Morrisey said of his opponent.
When he added, minutes later, that Manchin went to Washington and “made his bed with Hillary Clinton,” Manchin fired back that the former secretary of State isn’t running in the Senate election.
“Hillary Clinton is not on the ballot. Joe Manchin and Pat Morrisey. Pat, I’m right here,” Manchin said.
But Morrisey pushed forward saying if Clinton had been elected “we wouldn’t have judges, we wouldn’t have Trump tax cuts, we would have open borders, abortion on demand.” Manchin, sitting next to Morrisey, grumbled “oh, my.”
Clinton is deeply unpopular in West Virginia, losing the Democratic primary to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and the general election to Trump by roughly 42 percentage points.
Clinton created a firestorm after she said in a 2016 CNN town hall that she had a plan to bolster clean renewable energy in coal country because “we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right?”
Manchin, pressed Thursday night on his support for Clinton, said he called her shortly after her 2016 remarks and said he couldn’t support her.
“She said I want to come to West Virginia. I made a tremendous mistake. I said what you said is not going to be misconstrued. You’re very clear. She said I need to explain,” he said. “I said I think that’s another mistake coming to West Virginia.”
Healthcare remains top issue
The two candidates spent a good portion of the debate discussing healthcare and the opioid crisis, which has ravaged the state.
Both sides tried to claim they supported protecting individuals with pre-existing conditions. Democrats believe healthcare is the top issue in the midterm election and that they can force Republicans to play defense because of the years-long GOP pledge to repeal and replace ObamaCare.
Manchin said that 80 percent of West Virginians are benefiting from the healthcare law and grilled Morrisey for signing onto a lawsuit, as West Virginia’s attorney general, that would try to overturn ObamaCare as unconstitutional
“Their remedy for this says oh yeah we’re going to protect you from pre-existing conditions, only except we won’t protect [you from] the disease you’ve had,” Manchin said, adding, “…just drop your lawsuit Patrick. If you drop your lawsuit, we’re good.”
Morrisey accused Manchin of trying to get to “Clintoncare,” backing a single-payer healthcare system and countering that Republicans can protect individuals without keeping the Affordable Care Act in place.
“Big difference on healthcare between us but we’re not going to ever allow people with pre-existing conditions—you don’t need ObamaCare to protect people with pre-existing conditions,” Manchin said.
The candidates also clashed over the opioid crisis, which has devastated West Virginia. More than 1,000 people died of overdoses in the state in 2017, with 86 percent of those involving an opioid, according to local reports.
“My actions are fighting to protect people from this opioid epidemic,” Morrisey said.
The Republican accused Manchin of failing to take action to curb the issue during his tenure as governor and as senator.
Manchin hit back by highlighting Morrisey’s lobbying ties to the pharmaceutical industry, claiming his opponent “continues to reap benefits” from those connections.
“This is the only man that’s profited from pills coming to West Virginia,” Manchin said.
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