By Vicki Smith
and Lawrence Messina
The Associated Press
Two things are certain about the looming U.S. Senate battle between Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin and Republican businessman John Raese: A lot of money will be spent, and the GOP will try to make President Obama look like the unofficial running mate of the otherwise popular governor.
Manchin, 63, and Raese, 60, won their respective primaries Saturday and will face off Nov. 2 for the seat that belonged to the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd for more than half a century. Mountain Party candidate Jesse Johnson, 51, is also running.
In the month before the special election Raese consistently invoked the president's name, and he did the same at his victory party at the Hotel Morgan. He then went a step beyond his habit of calling the governor a liberal, using the word "leftist."
"In September we're going to give him something he's never seen before," Raese said. "It's called a clear vision and a clear picture of what a liberal has done in West Virginia and what a leftist possibly can do if he is elected to the United States Senate. Because that's Mr. Manchin."
The remarks earned a laugh from Manchin on Monday.
"They're going to have to find other things to call me. I don't think that is something anyone can take seriously," the governor said. "They're reaching. I understand that. I've been around the system long enough."
Neil Berch, associate professor of political science at West Virginia University, said Raese's game plan is clear: He will "try to convince West Virginia that Manchin's first name is Barack" and argue that while Manchin may have followed a moderate path in West Virginia, Manchin will vote with his party in the Senate.
"I think that's an uphill battle," said Berch.
"If the Democrats fall apart nationally, then the West Virginia election gets closer," Berch said. "But I think there's an awful lot of states where you'd see a Republican win before West Virginia."
Manchin cruised to an easy primary victory with little advertising. He noted that labor and business groups continue to endorse him -- as they did when he first won the governor's office in 2004. He said he has shown a knack for crossing party lines and other divides to improve the state, adding that "Washington could use a good dose of West Virginia."
"Anybody who does not think I'm fiercely independent has not paid attention. West Virginia Democrats are different," Manchin said. "We've shown results in six years. Who would have thought that we could have maintained an economy in such trying times? We did not cut services. We did not raise taxes <t40>...<t$> and we all worked together to do that."
Manchin, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term as governor, has won seven consecutive statewide elections, while Raese has lost four campaigns.