CHARLESTON, W.V. -- If anyone doubts that next week's elections are a referendum on President Obama, they probably don't live here. There is no starker example of the president's drag on an otherwise popular candidate than West Virginia's Democratic governor, Joe Manchin, who is running for the Senate -- and struggling mightily.
From a distance, Manchin would appear perfectly positioned to serve out the term of the late Democratic Senator Robert Byrd, who died in June. Manchin is the most popular governor in the nation, with an approval rating of 69 percent. The Democratic state legislature arranged for the special election to be conducted on the most favorable terms for him. And his Republican opponent, John Raese, seems a perfect foil in one of the nation's poorest states, a wealthy businessman given to bragging that he acquired his money the old-fashioned way, "by inheriting it.''
Yet most polls in the last few months have shown Raese in the lead. A Fox News poll released on Tuesday had Raese up narrowly, 48-to-46 percent. It left no doubt about why Manchin is struggling: Obama's statewide approval rating was a meager 29 percent.
More than anywhere else, Obama is the issue here, and both candidates have tailored their campaigns accordingly. Raese has consistently dubbed his opponent a "rubber stamp'' for the president. He shrewdly refers to the race as "the 10th seat,'' suggesting that his victory would hand control of the Senate to Republicans (which it might), the ultimate rebuke to Obama.