Manchin, Tomblin create uncertainty
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, the most popular governor the state has ever had, said in April that he isn't sure whether he will vote for President Obama in November.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, the savvy former state Senate president who replaced Manchin as governor, subsequently allowed as how he isn't sure whether he will vote for his party's president either.
This is an awful lot of slippery-looking uncertainty for people who are running in a state where the electorate is certain.
The Charleston Daily Mail's West Virginia Poll of 410 likely voters recently found a 54-37 margin for Republican Mitt Romney over Barack Obama.
That continues a trend line.
West Virginians didn't go for Obama last time, or the Democratic Party's presidential nominee before that, or the Democratic presidential nominee before that.
And that was before President Obama and a Democratic Senate passed the deceptively termed "Affordable Care Act" to ultimately sweep us all into government-controlled health care.
And before, with the tacit support of the Democrats' majority in the U.S. Senate, Obama's Environmental Protection Agency started inflicting real economic harm on West Virginians with its ruthless regulatory war on coal.
Because the Senate has abdicated its role in making national energy policy, it is allowing the administration to make energy policy by itself — imposing rules that have made it increasingly difficult to mine coal or burn it in electric power plants.
Very few people in West Virginia think a president should be allowed to work that way. Why even have a Senate if it doesn't think it's supposed to make energy policy?
All the while, the president Manchin still isn't sure about has poured billions into favored solar energy firms, many of which haven't been able to make it even with taxpayers' money.
West Virginians have felt the effects of the administration's war on coal in investments not made, jobs not created and utility bills not affordable.
"I'll look at the options," Manchin said in announcing his uncertainty over how he will vote.
"The people in West Virginia, they basically look at the candidates . . . the performance and the result that's been obtained."
"I am just waiting for it to play out. I am not jumping in one way or the other," adding helpfully: "I'm worried about me.
"I've said it's not a team sport. You need to go out and work for yourself."
Probably not the best choice of words. Goodness it's hard to get this distancing thing right.
The election is not about Manchin or Tomblin.
The question is not how they will vote in November either.
The question before the electorate is how Manchin would vote in the U.S. Senate, and how Tomblin would act if re-elected governor.
Governing is a team sport.
As Obama adviser David Axelrod made clear in his blasé response to Manchin's declaration of uncertainty.
"His concern is about his own political well-being," Axelrod said. "He's running for the Senate in that state. We didn't win the state the last time. It's going to be a tough state for us again, and he's making a political judgment about himself.
"I would hope that the country's interests will enter into it as well, and that ultimately he will be supporting the president."
Translation: Residents of a state that the administration has harmed are expected to elect a senator who will back the administration.
So dismissive was Axelrod of what West Virginians think that he didn't know or care that he had unwittingly validated Republican John Raese's campaign barb against Manchin the last time around:
The Democratic Party expects Manchin — and Tomblin — to toe the line.
But West Virginians don't sent senators to Washington or governors to Charleston to work for presidents.
Voters put people in place to represent them.
Manchin and Tomblin, trying to preserve the first option while creating the impression that they're actually about the second ,probably left many voters less certain about voting for them.
Maurice is editorial page
editor of the Daily Mail. She may be reached at 348-4802 or email@example.com.