Sen. Joe Manchin’s Bipartisanship Was Shaped by 1996 Election Loss

Joe Manchin’s path to becoming the Democrats’ most confounding U.S. senator started with a rejection within his own party.

Mr. Manchin, then a state senator and small-business owner, was running for West Virginia governor in 1996, his first bid for statewide office. He had built a business-friendly, culturally conservative profile during 15 years in the legislature, supporting job-creation incentives for business and opposing abortion rights. Banking and insurance groups endorsed him, along with the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce and the National Rifle Association.

But an important set of players—the state’s labor unions—viewed him as an enemy, in large part because he had voted to scale back injury awards in the workers’ compensation system. At union gatherings, coal miners wore T-shirts with Mr. Manchin’s name crossed out. Bumper stickers featuring a bloody hatchet reminded workers of his vote. “Don’t forget workers’ comp” was a union battle cry.

Mr. Manchin lost the Democratic primary to a union-backed candidate. But the defeat set off a course correction that helps to explain his political buoyancy today as the rare Democrat representing a solidly Republican state, as well as his insistence on bipartisan cooperation in the Senate, often to the frustration of his own party.

Once viewed by unions as hostile, Mr. Manchin, after 1996, found issues on which he could advocate for union interests and began a campaign to convince organized labor that he would adopt an inclusive governing style that would give it a seat at the table in policy debates.

Source: WSJ – US News

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