My home state of West Virginia, to which I returned to pay back for the start I was given here in news broadcasting, is now, to me, a place of profound sadness.
Mine was a progressive state when I left in the 1960s to work as a reporter for CBS News in New York City. We had helped elect John F. Kennedy as president and our key union — the United Mine Workers of America — was truly aspirational for the industry that employed so many fine people who were proud of their state and its reputation for keeping America’s lights on and democracy thriving.
Then, Republican Ronald Reagan wrecked the UMWA and most other unions. He pulled the first threads that helped create the hateful, anti-democratic forces that are trying to undermine us Democrats in West Virginia and throughout the nation.
It is in that bad atmosphere that I find myself continuing to fight to be of some good here — to navigate treacherous political waters that are roiled by none other than Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
I was naïve, on my return, to think Manchin, a Democrat and successor to master of the U.S. Senate, Robert C. Byrd, would, somehow, help turn West Virginia blue again. It was one of the most reliably Democratic states of the second half of the 20th century. But Democrats began to lose their grip on the state during the 1990s, at least at the presidential level.
Now, with a Democrat once again in the Oval Office, Manchin has a chance to support President Joe Biden’s progressive agenda, which polls show is highly favored by voters here. The Mountain State and Manchin could be viewed nationally as trending Democrat one more time. But, to my consternation, he seems bent on sabotaging the president’s plan by vowing not to abandon the legislative filibuster, a vow that imperils much of the Biden program. What is more, he has said in no uncertain terms that he would not vote for the Democrats’ far-reaching bill to combat voter suppression.
Democrats are likely gearing up for a full push to try to sway Manchin to change his mind. Ordinarily, that would be enough to make almost any Democrat politician in the country squirm. But not in West Virginia.
Black, Hispanic, college-educated, young, urban and professional voters all represent a much smaller share of the electorate in the state than just about anywhere else.
White voters without a four-year college degree, Donald Trump’s demographic base, made up 69% of voters here in 2020 (the highest percentage of any state in the country) according to census data. Trump won West Virginia with nearly 69% of the vote in 2020, more than in every state but Wyoming. With those numbers, it is difficult to understand how Democrat Joe Manchin wins here.
It is far too soon to evaluate Manchin’s chances in 2024, but early indications are not promising, despite his reputation as being a DINO — Democrat in name only.
Manchin is the only Democrat in West Virginia’s congressional delegation. If he loses three years from now, his loss will be counted as the end of an era.