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Manchin wrestles with progressive backlash in West Virginia

Progressives are fuming at Democratic Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinMajor unions back Fudge for Agriculture secretary Voters split on eliminating the filibuster: poll OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight MORE (W.Va.) in the final weeks of his Senate reelection campaign.

The West Virginia senator’s support for Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughCOVID-19: Justice Alito overstepped judicial boundaries Defusing the judicial confirmation process The magnificent moderation of Susan Collins MORE — in which he was the only Democrat to vote in favor of confirmation — angered liberal activists and prompted some national groups to cut support for Manchin.

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The backlash comes as the battle for the Senate is going down to the wire, with Democrats trying to fend off GOP challengers in several red and purple states, including West Virginia, that will determine which party controls the chamber for the next two years.

Patrick Hickey, a political science professor at West Virginia University, said progressive anger at Manchin from voters within West Virginia “matters a lot” and the Kavanaugh vote could be “potentially dangerous” for him.

“I think they already thought that Joe Manchin was cravenly political,” he said. “This might be a bridge too far to them.”

Hickey added that self-identified progressive voters are expected to turn out in November because of their frustration with President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year DOJ appeals ruling preventing it from replacing Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit MORE and an abortion ballot measure.

Manchin has held a lead in the race for months, though public polling since the Kavanaugh confirmation vote has been sparse. But that’s done little to stem the flow of national anger sparked by the Supreme Court fight.

Heidi Hess, a co-director of Credo Action, warned that Manchin was losing progressive voters.

"I think he lost an opportunity to show West Virginia voters that he stands for them,” she said. “I think he just depressed the base.”

National Democratic groups launched a full-scale battle to try to prevent Kavanaugh from reaching the Supreme Court. In addition to the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh, which he denied, progressives worry that the justice will provide Republicans a fifth vote on the bench on controversial issues like stripping away protections for pre-existing conditions for health insurance and overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that established the right to an abortion.

The reaction against Manchin for his support of Kavanaugh was swift; within a few hours a video had gone viral showing the senator being drowned out by protesters as he tried to explain his decision to back Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee.

MoveOn and Priorities USA Action quickly announced they would not support his reelection. Meanwhile, Alisa Clements of Planned Parenthood Votes South Atlantic said she was “deeply disappointed” by Manchin’s decision and that he “failed to stand up for abortion rights and access for West Virginian women.”

Manchin is one of 10 Senate Democrats running for reelection in a state won by Trump in 2016. But he’s the only one who voted for Kavanaugh despite the sexual assault allegations leveled against him by Christine Blasey Ford.

He announced his position after it was clear Kavanaugh had the votes needed to succeed former Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court, with GOP Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers Trump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism The Memo: Trump election loss roils right MORE (Maine) securing him the 50th vote.

A spokesman for Manchin’s reelection campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment. But Manchin told WV Metro News earlier this month that “the facts were very clear” on Kavanaugh.

“If I could have found something, if I could have found any corroboration at all,” he said.

“I could not even find where those two people were in the same place at the same time,” Manchin said, referring to Kavanaugh and Ford.

Manchin added that his decision was not affected by Collins or party leadership on either side, namely Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Voters say Biden should make coronavirus vaccine a priority: poll New York City subway service could be slashed 40 percent, officials warn MORE (N.Y.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHarris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight MORE (R-Ky.).

“I was going to be a 'yes' vote,” he said. “Nobody’s going to tell me how to vote — Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Voters say Biden should make coronavirus vaccine a priority: poll New York City subway service could be slashed 40 percent, officials warn MORE, Mitch McConnell or any of these people. ... That’s just not who I am.”

Republicans have characterized Manchin’s vote as being driven by political necessity, arguing it won’t be enough to win over conservative voters who came out in droves in 2016, handing Trump a 42-point margin of victory over Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFederal workers stuck it out with Trump — now, we're ready to get back to work Biden soars as leader of the free world Intercept DC bureau chief says Biden picks are 'same people' from Obama years MORE in West Virginia.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCornyn says election outcome 'becoming increasingly clear': report Top GOP senator: Biden should be getting intel briefings GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results MORE (R-Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said Manchin likely realized a vote against Kavanaugh would have been a “death sentence in terms of his political life.”

“He's, you know, a likable, popular guy, but it's state that President Trump won by 42 points,” Cornyn said. “I think just one vote is not going to determine his fate, but I think he probably helped himself rather than end his career.”

McConnell, who gave Manchin a shoutout for his support after the vote, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Manchin is “still a Democrat” and “we’re trying to win seats.”

But even as Republicans say they’ve gotten a bump from the Kavanaugh vote in other red and purple states that will determine control of the Senate, Manchin has maintained his lead in the polls against state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

Manchin’s lead over Morrisey is averaging more than 9 percentage points, according to RealClearPolitics, though a recent survey released by GOP polling firm Public Opinion Strategies had Manchin with a 1 point lead over Morrisey, 41 percent to 40 percent.

A national Democratic strategist watching the race said while they thought the race could tighten some in the final weeks before the Nov. 6 elections, they didn’t expect it to become close enough to be a toss-up. They said national groups might be upset with Manchin, but McConnell’s comments this week on a health-care lawsuit and repealing ObamaCare were providing a boost to Manchin.

“Manchin has made the argument on protecting pre-existing conditions a marquee part of his campaign,” the strategist said.

The Kavanaugh vote presented Manchin, and other red-state Democrats, with a no-win choice: Support Kavanaugh and enrage a progressive base that has been increasingly vocal since Trump’s 2016 victory or oppose Kavanaugh and risk moderates and swing voters.

Manchin, asked if he was concerned about backlash from progressives, downplayed that it was a political decision.

“The thing that bothers me is for people putting it in the category — well, if you vote for Judge Kavanaugh you don’t believe me,” he said, referring to sexual assault survivors who flooded his office. “I can’t tell you whether it helps or hurts. I didn’t vote on whether it would help or hurt me politically.”

Political strategists warn that if Manchin had opposed Kavanaugh he would have risked alienating conservative Democrats who supported Trump, and he’ll need those voters on Nov. 6.

Hickey added that while Manchin has tried to walk a “balance beam,” his base “is really more conservative Democrats” who likely would have balked if Manchin had opposed Kavanaugh.

“I think he decided that there was a larger block of those people in the state than there are very liberal people,” Hickey said.

Mike Plante, a Democratic consultant in West Virginia, added that conservative Democrats outnumber progressives in the state “without a doubt,” but also questioned if a statistically significant number of progressive voters wouldn’t ultimately support Manchin.

"I think at the end of the day, progressive voters know that on so many other issues, like protecting health care, to supporting Medicaid and Medicare and Social Security, that he is head and shoulders so much a better choice than Patrick Morrisey,” Plante said.

He added that “while there may be a temptation to vote against” Manchin because of the Kavanaugh vote, if Morrisey wins “that’s going to be worse on so many issues.”

"I think that on Election Day a lot of folks will make that calculation,” he added. "We're a red state and he's the senator of everybody and not just a small segment.”