WHEELING - Although his name won't appear on any ballot in 2014, Sen. Joe Manchin's future in Congress may have a lot to do with November's election returns, political analyst Chris Stirewalt believes.
Manchin, D-W.Va., won't have to run again for his Senate seat until 2018, but he's made no secret of his frustration with Washington politics and has acknowledged publicly he's keeping his options open for 2016, when term-limited Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's job will be up for grabs.
Manchin will be more likely to seek an early exit from Congress if the Senate remains in Democrat hands, Stirewalt, digital politics editor for Fox News and a Wheeling native, told a lunchtime crowd at River City Ale Works in downtown Wheeling on Thursday. His talk was part of the West Liberty University Economics Club's speaker series.
ADDRESSES?CROWD — Chris Stirewalt, Fox News digital politics editor, addresses a lunchtime crowd at River City Ale Works in downtown Wheeling Thursday. -- Ian Hicks
Republicans have a real shot to take over the Senate in November, Stirewalt said, but even if they do it's highly unlikely they will have the 60 votes necessary to break a Democrat filibuster. That means they'll have to negotiate with Democrats, and Manchin - who hasn't been shy about opposing his party - may be one of the first to whom they'll turn.
"That will make Manchin a very powerful person," Stirewalt said.
During his talk, Stirewalt offered several predictions for November, including the defeat of longtime Rep. Nick Rahall, D-Beckley, by Republican challenger Evan Jenkins in the Mountain State's 3rd Congressional District.
But he also expects a seat long held by the GOP - the 2nd District seat being vacated by Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-Charleston, as she seeks to replace retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. - could turn blue. He considers Democrat Nick Casey the favorite over Republican nominee Alex Mooney.
Stirewalt also projects that if the election were held today, Capito would defeat Democrat Secretary of State Natalie Tennant for Rockefeller's seat.
And he believes that demonstrates the GOP has learned from past mistakes and has begun to put people ahead of ideology when selecting candidates.
For example, Stirewalt said, Capito may not be conservative enough to satisfy some Republicans, but she is electable - and that may make all the difference.
"She's not a Tea Party dreamboat," he said. "What she is is a vote against Harry Reid as majority leader, and that goes a long way."
According to Stirewalt, voters frustrated over partisan gridlock largely have themselves to blame.
They have chosen to elect a polarizing, Democrat president in Barack Obama while continuing to send Republicans to the House of Representatives, he said - and unless voters force Obama to work with Republicans by tipping the balance of power in the Senate, they can expect more of the same.
"Whether they mean to or not, voters have affirmed gridlock," Stirewalt said.
But the decisions made at the ballot box can only go so far toward ensuring a bright future for the area, according to Stirewalt.
"No politician has a plan to fix the economy in the Ohio Valley. ... Entrepreneurship is the key," he said.
Stirewalt has worked at Fox News since 2010. He began his career at The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register and then had other stops in West Virginia and as politics editor for the Washington Examiner before joining the network.
The University Economics Club is sponsored by the BB&T Center for Economic Philosophy, chaired by Dr. Erik Root, Associate Professor of Political Science at WLU. The center is funded through a grant from BB&T.
Additional upcoming University Economics Club speakers include Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, on June 26 and Joy Pullmann, research fellow at The Heartland Institute, on July 24.