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Manchin talks presidential vote count, future of Democratic Party in West Virginia

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks to reporters Friday about the vote counting process for president. (Image Provided)

CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s lone statewide Democratic elected official said he is hoping that once the votes are counted that the nation will unite around whoever the ultimate winner is, while also considering the future of the Democratic Party in the state.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., held a virtual briefing with reporters Friday afternoon to talk about the vote counting for president of the United States.

Manchin, a former secretary of state in West Virginia, said he understands the election process and all the work that goes into counting the votes on Election Day. He said the counting process needs to continue.

“It’s been an unprecedented election,” Manchin said. “Democracy does take time, but we’ve got to make sure that every vote is counted and basically that certification is done, that way we know that every vote that was counted was legally counted. I think we’re going through that and that should be done.”

Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president, former vice president and U.S. senator, lost in West Virginia, with Republican President Donald Trump earning 539,610 votes according to unofficial results from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office. Trump defeated Biden 69.73 percent to 29.61 percent in the state.

While Trump will receive all five of West Virginia’s electoral votes, the presidential race remained close nationally. According to the New York Times, Biden leads narrowly with 253 electoral votes compared to Trump’s 214 electoral votes as of Friday. The election remains too close to call in several states, including Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania.

If Biden’s slim lead in Pennsylvania holds, the state’s 20 electoral votes would give Biden the 270 electoral votes needed to win the election, though it is expected that the Trump campaign will challenge the results in several states. Trump and his campaign surrogates have claimed voter fraud without any evidence in states still counting absentee ballots that came in after Election Day but were postmarked by Tuesday.

Manchin said that if there was any proof of shenanigans with the vote totals, there would be evidence. Manchin pointed to the fact that Republicans are on track to pick up seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and likely keep the majority in the U.S. Senate as signs that the 2020 election was not rigged.

“There’s no evidence of fraud that we can see anywhere,” Manchin said. “The Republicans picked up seats in Congress, so they not only did not lose seats, they picked up seats. The Democrats did not pick up seats in the Senate they thought they would pick up. So, if there was fraud, don’t you think that wouldn’t have happened that way? If there’s any type of fraud going on, it can’t just go on in the presidential election and not affect other races.”

Manchin congratulated West Virginia’s Republican candidates for their victories in Tuesday’s elections. Republicans took wide margins in congressional races, with Manchin’s colleague, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., receiving more votes than Trump. Capito won with 541,645 votes, or 70.37 percent of the vote.

Gov. Jim Justice, who won the governor’s seat in 2016 as a Democrat with help from Manchin loyalists, easily won re-election Tuesday as a Republican, defeating Democratic Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango 492,743 to 233,704 with Justice taking 64.86-percent of the vote.

Other Republican members of the Board of Public Works — Secretary of State Mac Warner, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, State Auditor J.B. McCuskey, and Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt — won re-election with wide margins. Former Republican Jefferson County lawmaker Riley Moore defeated Democratic six-term State Treasurer John Perdue 420,640 to 326,481 with Moore receiving 56.3-percent of the vote.

In the last days of the 2020 general election, Manchin and his wife — former first lady, state Board of Education member, and cabinet secretary Gayle Manchin — traveled the state on behalf of Salango and other Democratic candidates.

With the defeat of Perdue, Manchin is now the last remaining statewide elected Democratic official. Manchin also barely won re-election for a second full term to the U.S. Senate in 2018. Manchin won that race against Morrisey by 3.31 percentage points, receiving 49.57 percent of the vote to Morrisey’s 46.26 percent.

Republicans also expanded their majorities to supermajorities in the West Virginia Legislature. The state Senate changed from 20 Republicans and 14 Democrats to a 23-11 body. On the House of Delegates side, Republicans picked up 18 seats, increasing their numbers from 58 to 76 with 24 Democrats.

Voter registration in the state has also shifted dramatically in favor of Republicans. In 2016, registered Democrats were 44.9 percent of all registered voters in West Virginia compared to 31.1 percent for registered Republicans. As of Oct. 13, registered Democrats had 37.1 percent of voter registration while Republicans had 36.1 percent — a margin of 0.95 percent.

Manchin said the state Democratic Party and Democratic lawmakers need to do a better job of stating their values and not letting Republicans define who they are. Manchin attributed much of the perception of state Democrats on social media and efforts to link the state party to the progressive shift of the national Democratic Party. Manchin said that’s not who West Virginia Democrats are.

“For people to believe that the Democrats don’t support fight for the working person, just look back in history and look at basically all the laws that have been passed, whether they were safety laws or even tax laws that they give them an opportunity. We’ve got to continue to tell our story a lot better and show the results. The facts are what they are.”

Known as a moderate Democrat, Manchin said he is already having conversations with Senate Republicans to find areas of commonality. Manchin said the election results are a sign that the public wants Democrats and Republicans working together to find commonsense solutions to the nation’s problems.

“There’s a bunch of us who want to work together on both sides, understanding that the election results are loud and clear,” Manchin said. “They’re sick and tired of not getting anything accomplished and one side having control or the other side having control. They want to balance, and they want us to work in a balanced atmosphere. So, we’re talking to each other and I’m very encouraged by the conversations.”

Manchin has publicly expressed his frustration in the past with the U.S. Senate and the slow progress on legislation. Manchin’s name has also been floated in the past as a possible cabinet pick. Manchin said he has not been in contact with the White House transition team put together by Biden, but if approached he would consider serving in the administration.

“I think when you’re in public service, you want to be in the best place to help your people and basically the state of West Virginia, where can I best represent them and really do some good for my country,” Manchin said. “I could bring a balance. I could be able to help, but we haven’t had any conversations at all right now. I think it’s preliminary to do that.”

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com.

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