Senate candidates say Obama no friend of West Virginia
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin and Republican John Raese both said President Barack Obama has not earned West Virginians' votes in the upcoming presidential election.
But Manchin, D-W.Va., remains silent over which presidential candidate will get his vote on Nov. 6.
Both men met with the Daily Mail editorial board Monday morning to discuss their own race for the U.S. Senate race, but they were also asked about the presidential race.
Raese said Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney would be better for the country because, like him, Romney has a business background and believes in personal responsibility.
Raese described the last four years of the Obama administration as an "utter failure" and said it would be "ludicrous" to re-elect him.
Manchin said he was "very disappointed" that Obama did not take the mandate he received in the 2008 election to turn around the country's fiscal problems. He also said he was "totally in disagreement" with the administration's energy policies.
But he would not say whether he would support Romney in November.
"I'm disappointed with both, truly, both candidates we have right now," Manchin said.
Manchin said he felt like many other West Virginians, who do not like the president's environmental policies but also do not agree with Romney's approach.
Manchin said he didn't like Romney's "trickle-down" methods, nor did he like vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan's proposals to privatize Social Security and turn Medicare into a voucher system.
Manchin refused to say which candidate would get his vote and vowed that he wouldn't answer that question at any point between now and Election Day. He said he would be willing to work with the man elected to solve the country's financial problems.
While he wouldn't say for whom he would vote, when the question was rephrased to ask whether he thought Obama had earned the votes of West Virginians, Manchin's answer was firm.
"I don't think he's earned West Virginia's votes, I can assure you," he said. "The War On Coal is real, I mean that with all my heart."
But Manchin said the recent television ad showing Romney pointing toward a coal-fired power plant and saying, "That plant kills people," did not make him feel like Romney was in West Virginia's corner.
"We don't have anyone out there right now," he said.
This year's contest is a rematch of the 2010 special election to fill the final two years of late-Sen. Robert C. Byrd's term. Manchin defeated Raese by a 53 to 43 percent margin in that race.
Just as he did in 2010, Raese has been trying to equate a vote for lifelong Democrat Manchin with a vote for Obama, who remains deeply unpopular across the state.
While Manchin is seen as a conservative Democrat, Raese said that doesn't matter in the context of Washington politics.
"Joe has a situation; Joe's on the wrong team," Raese said.
That team, Raese said, is made up of liberal Democrats like Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
While he knows Manchin is more conservative than those three, Raese said Manchin has been unable to stand up against their policies.
"What did he do when he became Washington Joe? He voted as a member of the team," Raese said.
"I'm a proud West Virginia Democrat - I am not a Washington Democrat," he said.
He said his political beliefs were shaped by his upbringing, which emphasized hard work and being held accountable.
"I've never been called a liberal," Manchin said. "I'm a fiscal conservative and a social moderate."
While he believes programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are vital safety nets to protect seniors and the poor, Manchin said they've been expanded beyond their original intentions.
Manchin said programs to help the poor were "not intended to be generational welfare."
He said the federal government needed a strong financial backbone so it could help the poor, but he said that did not mean he believed in redistributing wealth.
"I'm not going to take from you and give to them," he said.
But Raese said Manchin's words don't match his actions. He said Manchin has had opportunities to change unpopular Obama administration policies and has failed to act.
"Joe's been there for two and a half years. Has anything changed? No," Raese said.
"He has to be a Democrat, he has to play the game and play with the guys on his team," he said. "Once you are a Democrat in Washington, you are a Democrat plain and simple."
Manchin maintained he is independent and said he has been rated one of the most centrist and moderate members of Congress.
"The only team I support is West Virginia's and America's team," Manchin said.
The West Virginia Coal Association has endorsed Manchin over Raese in this year's Senate race.
Raese said the coal association was "shallow" and acted like "lemmings" in supporting Manchin.
Manchin said he has built a track record of working together with people of both parties to get things done. He said that's the kind of person voters need to send to Washington, not someone with a rigid ideology who would oppose working together for change.
Raese emphasized the need for Republicans to win five more seats and gain control of the Senate so Reid, Boxer and other Democratic leaders of the body can be replaced.
Contact writer Jared Hunt at email@example.com or 304-348-5148.