My new column for the FT looks at the WV Senate race.
Perhaps the most telling aspect of the race - and the most disturbing for Democrats - is Mr Manchin's response to his rival's surprising success. He has begun campaigning quite overtly against Mr Obama.
His most recent television advert is something to see. There he stands, loading a hunting rifle, and saying, "I'll take on Washington and this administration, and get the federal government off of our backs and out of our pockets. I'll cut federal spending and repeal the bad parts of Obamacare ... I'll take dead aim at the cap-and-trade bill, because it's bad for West Virginia." With that, he fires a round (dead centre at 50 yards) into a copy of the bill.
After two years of "Yes we can", this is what it takes to elect a Democrat in West Virginia. Note that the campaign themes in the ad are directed not to the economy or the need to spur jobs - much as West Virginia is suffering in that regard. They address the perception that government has over-reached, a charge that Democratic party leaders in Washington, including Mr Obama himself, seem determined to ignore.
Last night the two main contenders met (along with the Mountain party and Constitution party candidates, deservedly trailing far behind) in their only planned TV debate.
I thought Manchin was not just much the most impressive of the bunch, but the only one remotely fit for high office. Raese has a steady, confident presence, I grant you, and a fine baritone, but his views are anything but calm. He called Obamacare "pure unadulterated socialism". He is a full-frontal global-warming denier: (a) it isn't happening and (b) if it were, it wouldn't be our fault. On foreign policy: "My philosophy has always been very simple. We win, you lose." Once you understand that, I suppose, the rest is easy.
Think of Manchin, on the other hand, as a moderate Republican running as a Democrat--for which there is much to be said. He is willing to work with Obama, he conceded, but then he is willing to work with anybody. He looked competent, and sounded as though he might know what he was talking about. In this field, that set him apart. I can see why West Virginians might prefer to retain him as governor, as I mentioned in the column, rather than send him to DC.
What surprised me about the other two candidates was how unprepared they seemed. It was as if they had been picked up at random and brought to the set with sacks over their heads. Asked to make opening statements, they looked instantly wrong-footed: who said anything about opening statements? Jeff Becker of the state's Constitution party is a truther, by the way: he answered a question on Afghanistan by pointing out anomalies in the conventional wisdom about 9/11 and (if I understood him correctly, which I cannot swear I did) alleging BBC involvement in the plot.
I say vote Manchin.