IN June, Gov. Joe Manchin created a federal political action committee, laying the groundwork to support "centrist candidates."
On June 27, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review headlined it this way: "West Virginia's 'centrist' governor readies for national role (Byrd's Senate seat.)"
"Manchin, 62, is considering a Senate run should Robert Byrd, 92 . . . decide not to seek a 10th term in 2012."
Byrd died the next day
Manchin, one of the most effective and popular governors in West Virginia history, seemed to have a lock on the Senate seat.
President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid flew in for the memorial service, perhaps as eager to court Manchin as to memorialize Byrd.
But in a month, the whole dynamic changed. No fewer than 10 Republicans filed in the Republican primary for the special Senate election.
I should have realized it meant they had a lot of company.
And when the Daily Mail's editorial board met with those Republican candidates, now-GOP nominee John Raese said he wouldn't be a "rubber stamp" for Barack Obama."
Fellow candidate Mac Warner said "When he [Manchin] puts on that [Democratic] jersey . . ."
Then I knew. We have a rip-snorter on our hands.
"Centrist," it turned out, wasn't nearly right enough.
"I won't be a rubber stamp for Barack Obama," is a deadly effective sentence, and Raese has forced Manchin to make some important clarifications.
As recently as Sept. 29, Manchin indicated the state would not sue the EPA until it actually denied a mountaintop mining permit instead of just paralyzing the whole industry.
By this week, though, Manchin's strong stance against the EPA was not strong enough. Manchin, clearly behind in the polls, announced that the state would be filing after all.
"It's a shame when you have to take action against your own government," the governor said, "but sometimes it has to be done."
When we first met with Democratic candidates, Manchin did not support repeal of Obamacare, adding: "Did they get everything right? No."
But by Friday, people who Googled "Manchin" and "repeal" and "Obamacare" found two citations next to each other:
July 16, The Weekly Standard: "West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin Endorses Obamacare."
And this headline: "Manchin vs. Obama(care): A West Virginia Democrat tries to get elected.
"West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin has become the first Senate Democratic candidate to call for the repeal of Obamacare . . . . " (three days ago).