CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Joe Manchin hopes his six years as West Virginia's chief executive will trump what he calls a multimillion-dollar "fear and smear'' campaign targeting his U.S. Senate candidacy.
The Democratic nominee told The Associated Press that Republicans have misled voters about his stances on such issues as coal, health care and the stimulus. The GOP has also tried to capitalize on voter dislike of President Obama by claiming Manchin would be a "rubber stamp'' for unpopular administration policies.
"They've scared people enough to make them think that I'll go up and vote for what's not right for West Virginia,'' Manchin said. "I'm saying, 'Don't let them scare you, don't let them buy this election. Look at what we've done, working together, in West Virginia. Give me a chance.'''
Manchin invokes the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd when talking about how he would handle the office if elected. The 92-year-old Byrd's death in June prompted next month's special election to fill the final two years of his term.
"You never saw Sen. Byrd kowtowing to any party line. Whether it was Democrats or Republicans, if he thought it was wrong for West Virginia, wrong for America, that's the way he voted,'' said Manchin, 63.
"That's the fierce independence that we have. That's who we've sent up to Washington. That's exactly what I'll be.''
To prove his point, Manchin said he will not commit to supporting Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., if Reid wins re-election and Democrats maintain their majority.
"Whoever wants to be that leader, I'll be looking for the person who is that leader,'' Manchin said. "They have to look at and evaluate the entire direction that this country's going. Each body needs to look at the direction it's going.''
While his political affiliation is Democrat, Manchin says his strength has been his bipartisan approach to problem-solving. He points to the successes his administration has had to keep the state operating while others have been forced to curtail transportation projects, cut services and lay off employees.
His handling of the state's affairs has won him endorsements from the likes of the U.S. and state chambers of commerce, the National Rifle Association, the United Mine Workers union and the West Virginia Coal Association.
"How can you have people that would be affected by the decisions I've made since I've been governor still supporting me if I've done something to harm them?'' Manchin said.
But Manchin said he recognizes that Obama's unpopularity has become a key issue in the race, and fuels a potent campaign message for the GOP. While Manchin won 70 percent of the vote to be elected to a second term in 2008, Obama lost the state by more than 13 percentage points.