Not even Robert Byrd's seat is safe

by Dave Weigel

The invaluable Reid Wilson sees the National Republican Senatorial Committee starting to dig into the records of Gov. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.). When the governor entered the race for the late Robert Byrd's Senate seat, some wags wrote the race off. But the NRSC went after Manchin for a waffling answer (on Fox News) on whether he supported the administration's challenge to Arizona's immigration law, and now it's attacking on this:

The NRSC has requested a series of documents from Manchin's office under WV Freedom of Information laws. In a letter to Manchin's office, NRSC chief counsel Sean Cairncross asked for correspondence between Manchin's office and the Justice Department and any information relating to Manchin family members who may be employed with the state. What's more, the NRSC wants to know whether Manchin spoke with anyone at the WH about Byrd's seat. Correspondence between the WH and Senate candidates in CO, PA and IL has proven embarrassing for Pres. Obama's admin, and GOPers are hoping to continue that story line.

This is gruel so thin Oliver wouldn't even ask for more of it. But it says something about Republicans that they're even spending the time on this. In any other year, Manchin would be a slam dunk candidate, the way popular Gov. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) is in North Dakota. If he has weaknesses or lackluster campaign skills they haven't been seen in two statewide races where he ran miles ahead of his party's presidential ticket. No one wants to run against him. But as the NRSC bats in 10 other states, it's trying to create the impression that Manchin is beatable by one of the GOP's preferred candidates, and to drag one of them in. (It tried the same, unsuccessfully, in 2005, when Byrd was gearing up for his final term.)

You can already see Democrats opting to triage on some Senate races they talked about making this year, like South Carolina. Republicans aren't even giving up on the Byrd seat. It's in situations like these that Scott Brown's victory did more for his party's confidence than the passage of health care did for Democrats.