Almanac A members-only database of searchable profiles compiled and adapted from the Almanac of American Politics

Biography

Elected: Nov. 2010, term expires 2018, 1st full term.

Born: August 24, 1947, Farmington

Home: Marion County

Education: WV U., B.A. 1970

Professional Career: Co-owner, Manchin's Carpet and Tile, 1968-82; owner, Enersystems, 1989-2000.

Ethnicity: White/Caucasian

Religion: Catholic

Family: married (Gayle) , 3 children

Democrat Joe Manchin, elected in 2010, is West Virginia’s junior senator. A popular former governor, he has used his political capital to try to break through the Senate’s gridlock, most notably on gun control and student loan rates.

Manchin hails from a prominent political family. He grew up in Farmington, a few miles up Buffalo Creek from the industrial city of Fairmont on the Monongahela River. Manchin took a semester off from college to help his father rebuild his carpet and furniture store after a fire. His grandfather and father both served as mayor of Farmington. His uncle, A. James Manchin, was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates and was also secretary of state and state treasurer.

After graduating from West Virginia University, Joe Manchin went to work in the carpet and furniture business, helping to send his four siblings to college. Then he started a coal brokerage company and eventually moved to Fairmont. Manchin was elected to the House of Delegates in 1982 and the state Senate in 1986. He then ran for governor, only to lose in the Democratic primary to legislator Charlotte Pritt. When Secretary of State Ken Hechler ran for the U.S. House in 2000, Manchin ran to succeed him, as did Pritt. This time, Manchin beat her in the primary, 51% to 29%, and went on to win the general election.

In May 2003, Manchin announced he would challenge Democratic Gov. Bob Wise in the 2004 primary. Later that month, Wise admitted that he had had an extramarital affair and would not seek reelection. Manchin worked successfully to get support from both unions and business. His stands on cultural issues were impeccably conservative: He was opposed to abortion rights, gun control, and same sex marriage. Manchin won the Democratic primary with 53%. And he went on to easily defeat Republican Monty Warner in the general election, 64% to 34%, carrying 52 of 55 counties.

Manchin had been in office for just one year when he gained renown as the public face of desperate attempts to rescue 13 trapped coal miners after the January 2006 explosion at the Sago Mine in central West Virginia. Manchin, whose uncle was killed in a 1968 mine accident that claimed 78 lives, gave numerous televised interviews from the mine site. But he also mistakenly announced “the miracle of all miracles”—that 12 of the miners had survived—when in fact they had died. The blunder could have been career-ending. But Manchin’s standing skyrocketed in the polls, partly because West Virginia Republicans decided that invoking the accident politically was a line that they would not cross. After two other deadly mining accidents, Manchin ordered safety inspections at all mines in the state. In 2007, he signed new safety laws mandating certain ventilation practices and giving the state authority to temporarily shut down mines with violations.

Manchin had success on other issues. In 2006, he signed into law eight bills designed to improve health care in the state, including giving low-income families basic care at clinics and creating a catastrophic health care insurance program and a new mental health commission. But his tenure was also marred by a controversy involving his daughter and politically potent institutions in the state. After the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the governor's daughter, Heather Bresch, falsely claimed to have earned a master's degree in business in 1998 at West Virginia University, the school awarded her the degree in 2007 although she had completed only about half the required 48 credit hours. Under pressure, several top university officials, including the school's president, resigned. Bresch, a high-level executive at Mylan, a large generic drug maker that donated heavily to the university and, through its top executives, to Manchin's campaigns, never admitted wrongdoing.

Manchin expressed support for Bresch, and although the scandal was making headlines in 2008, he did not have serious competition for reelection that year, and won, 70% to 26%.

His popularity sparked speculation about his political future. When Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd died in June 2010 after 51 years in office, Manchin was seen as the Democrats’ best hope for keeping the seat. Although empowered to appoint himself to the Senate pending a special election, Manchin declined to do so. Instead, he appointed his former chief counsel, Carte Goodwin, as a placeholder pending a 2010 special election.

Republicans initially hadn’t planned to invest in the race. In September, a Rasmussen survey showed Manchin with a soaring job approval rating of 69%. His GOP opponent was John Raese, a wealthy businessman whom Byrd defeated four years earlier by nearly 2-to-1. But Raese, who poured his own money into the contest, turned out to be a stronger challenger than expected in a highly favorable year for Republicans. He ran ads seeking to tie Manchin to President Barack Obama. The National Republican Senatorial Committee launched its own ads portraying Manchin as a rubber stamp for Obama’s agenda, and the race became a toss-up.

To reverse his political slide, Manchin distanced himself from the president, even at the expense of flip-flopping. After saying early in 2010 that he supported Obama’s health care overhaul, by October, Manchin was saying he would have voted against it as a senator. The Democrats’ cap-and-trade bill to curb carbon emissions was also highly unpopular in West Virginia coal country, still an important economic driver in the state. Manchin ran an ad in which he shot a mock copy of the carbon emissions bill with a rifle.

For his part, Manchin raised questions about Raese’s commitment to the state, pointing out repeatedly that the steel and limestone magnate owned a home in Florida and that his wife was registered to vote there. Manchin also hammered Raese for his support for eliminating the minimum wage and abolishing the Education Department. Although he was outspent $6.3 million to $4.4 million, Manchin won, 53% to 43%.

He went to Washington immediately after the election to begin serving the final two years of Byrd’s term. Manchin voted on a proposal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts except for taxpayers earning over $1 million, although he had said during his campaign he favored the Republican position of extending them for all taxpayers. But he was the only Democrat to vote “no” on a proposal to repeal the ban on openly gay members in the military.

Still, Manchin was roundly criticized around the state for missing a final vote on repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and also for missing a major vote on a bill to give legal status to the children of some illegal immigrants. The Charleston Gazette called him “absolutely gutless.” Manchin apologized publicly, saying he missed the December votes to be with his grandchildren over the holidays. He further angered the newspaper in 2012 when he declined to say whether he would vote for Obama’s reelection. It refused to endorse him in that April’s Democratic primary, questioning whether he was “on course to follow Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman and register as independent.” It hardly mattered; Manchin beat former Monongalia County legislator Sheirl Fletcher with 80% of the vote.

His win set up a general election rematch with Raese for a full six-year term. Raese resurrected his main campaign theme that Manchin was an Obama rubber stamp, but the senator now had a voting record that demonstrated otherwise. Manchin easily improved on his earlier victory, winning 61%-36% in a state in which GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney took 62% of the vote.

Even before his reelection, Manchin showed signs of wanting to change the Senate’s stalemated course. In September, he blasted the chamber for adjourning six weeks before the election. He then teamed up with former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman in forming a “Problem Solvers” initiative enlisting other lawmakers of both parties through the group NoLabels.org. “We will either work across the aisle to fix problems or we will achieve nothing,” Manchin and Huntsman said in a January 2013 op-ed column.

In April, after several months of taking colleagues out on his boat Black Tie for evenings of beer and pizza, Manchin announced a compromise on gun control with Republicans Mark Kirk of Illinois—his best friend in the chamber—and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Its most significant feature was a proposal to expand background checks for gun buyers to cover transactions at gun shows and Internet sales. It did not go as far as Obama wanted—it exempted sales between private citizens in some instances—but was seen as the best chance to advance gun control legislation in years. “This is common sense,” said Manchin, who previously had boasted of his “A” rating from the National Rifle Association. “This is gun sense.” But the measure couldn’t attract enough votes to overcome a GOP filibuster, and some gun control proponents said Manchin didn’t handle the issue with enough finesse. They noted that his spokesman had said the NRA was “neutral” on the measure when it was unveiled, but the powerful group denied that was the case.

He had more success attacking political gridlock during the student loan debate in the summer of 2013. The two parties had spent months bickering about how to prevent an automatic doubling of student-loan rates from 3.4% to 6.8% by a statuatory deadline of July 1. Manchin was a key negotiator in a deal that brought the rates back down and tied them to the market. He said he got involved after Senate Democratic leadership presented a doomed plan to temporarily extend lower rates.

"You want me to vote for the extension. You know it's going to fail but you just want to make a political point with the extension like we're trying to keep the rates down. And I said … I know that we can do so much better, we can reduce everybody's rates," Manchin told National Journal.

The deal that passed and was ultimately signed into law brought rates down for undergraduates to 3.9 percent. It was crafted by a bipartisan group of senators, including Manchin, and the Obama White House. Indeed, Manchin is often drawn to the deal. Impatient with the plodding pace of the Senate, the 65-year-old likes high-profile issues that tend to produce action.

"Manchin doesn't want to fall in line, he wants to do his own thing," said a National Journal source who has worked closely with the senator. "It's really hard to get him to execute an agenda that's very systematic. The reason he does these things like cutting deals with Republicans is because they're more willing to meet him where he is."

The way Manchin describes it, to get things done, leaders have to create a comfort zone for their opposition and try to avoid putting them at a political disadvantage—the exact opposite of how Congress works these days. "They're trying to basically beat the shit out of each other. I don't subscribe to that," Manchin said of the Democratic and Republican Senate leaders, adding that neither side gets results.

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-3954

(202) 228-0002

HSOB- Hart Senate Office Building Room 306
Washington, DC 20510-4804

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-3954

(202) 228-0002

HSOB- Hart Senate Office Building Room 306
Washington, DC 20510-4804

DISTRICT OFFICE

(304) 342-5855

(304) 343-7144

900 Pennsylvania Avenue Suite 629
Charleston, WV 25302

DISTRICT OFFICE

(304) 342-5855

(304) 343-7144

300 Virginia Street East Suite 2630
Charleston, WV 25301

DISTRICT OFFICE

(304) 264-4626

(304) 262-3039

261 Aikens Center Suite 305
Martinsburg, WV 25404-6203

DISTRICT OFFICE

(304) 264-4626

(304) 262-3039

261 Aikens Center Suite 305
Martinsburg, WV 25404-6203

DISTRICT OFFICE

(304) 368-0567

(304) 368-0198

230 Adams Street
Fairmont, WV 26554

DISTRICT OFFICE

(304) 284-8663

48 Donely Street Suite 504
Morgantown, WV 26501

Staff

Sort by: Interest Name Title

Abortion

Katherine Cassling
Legislative Assistant

Aerospace

Wes Kungel
Legislative Aide

Alexander Damato
Legislative Correspondent

Agriculture

Sam Runyon
Legislative Correspondent

Thomas Lucas
Legislative Correspondent

Appropriations

Lance West
Legislative Aide

Banking

Lance West
Legislative Aide

Allison McNeill
Correspondence Manager; Staff Assistant

Kirtan Mehta
Legislative Director

Budget

Allison McNeill
Correspondence Manager; Staff Assistant

Campaign

Lance West
Legislative Aide

Mara Boggs
State Director

Thomas Lucas
Legislative Correspondent

Commerce

Wes Kungel
Legislative Aide

Alexander Damato
Legislative Correspondent

Kirtan Mehta
Legislative Director

Disaster

Wes Kungel
Legislative Aide

Alexander Damato
Legislative Correspondent

Mara Boggs
State Director

Education

Katherine Cassling
Legislative Assistant

Mara Boggs
State Director

Thomas Lucas
Legislative Correspondent

Energy

Sam Runyon
Legislative Correspondent

Environment

Sam Runyon
Legislative Correspondent

Family

Thomas Lucas
Legislative Correspondent

Finance

Allison McNeill
Correspondence Manager; Staff Assistant

Kirtan Mehta
Legislative Director

Foreign

Chris Cannon
Military Legislative Assistant

David LaPorte
Legislative Aide

Emily Farnell
Legislative Correspondent

Gambling

Kirtan Mehta
Legislative Director

Govt Ops

Wes Kungel
Legislative Aide

Alexander Damato
Legislative Correspondent

Gun Issues

Sam Runyon
Legislative Correspondent

Thomas Lucas
Legislative Correspondent

Health

Katherine Cassling
Legislative Assistant

Thomas Lucas
Legislative Correspondent

Housing

Lance West
Legislative Aide

Allison McNeill
Correspondence Manager; Staff Assistant

Human Rights

Mara Boggs
State Director

Thomas Lucas
Legislative Correspondent

Kirtan Mehta
Legislative Director

Immigration

Lance West
Legislative Aide

Thomas Lucas
Legislative Correspondent

Kirtan Mehta
Legislative Director

Intelligence

Chris Cannon
Military Legislative Assistant

Mara Boggs
State Director

Judiciary

Lance West
Legislative Aide

Allison McNeill
Correspondence Manager; Staff Assistant

Thomas Lucas
Legislative Correspondent

Kirtan Mehta
Legislative Director

Labor

Katherine Cassling
Legislative Assistant

Thomas Lucas
Legislative Correspondent

Medicare

Katherine Cassling
Legislative Assistant

Thomas Lucas
Legislative Correspondent

Military

Chris Cannon
Military Legislative Assistant

David LaPorte
Legislative Aide

Mara Boggs
State Director

Emily Farnell
Legislative Correspondent

National Security

Chris Cannon
Military Legislative Assistant

David LaPorte
Legislative Aide

Mara Boggs
State Director

Native Americans

Thomas Lucas
Legislative Correspondent

Seniors

Katherine Cassling
Legislative Assistant

Thomas Lucas
Legislative Correspondent

Social Security

Katherine Cassling
Legislative Assistant

Thomas Lucas
Legislative Correspondent

Tax

Allison McNeill
Correspondence Manager; Staff Assistant

Technology

Wes Kungel
Legislative Aide

Alexander Damato
Legislative Correspondent

Telecommunications

Wes Kungel
Legislative Aide

Alexander Damato
Legislative Correspondent

Trade

Allison McNeill
Correspondence Manager; Staff Assistant

Transportation

Wes Kungel
Legislative Aide

Alexander Damato
Legislative Correspondent

Veterans

Chris Cannon
Military Legislative Assistant

David LaPorte
Legislative Aide

Mara Boggs
State Director

Emily Farnell
Legislative Correspondent

Welfare

Thomas Lucas
Legislative Correspondent

Women

Thomas Lucas
Legislative Correspondent

Kirtan Mehta
Legislative Director

Election Results

2012 GENERAL
Joe Manchin
Votes: 399,908
Percent: 60.57%
John Raese
Votes: 240,787
Percent: 36.47%
2012 PRIMARY
Joe Manchin
Votes: 163,891
Percent: 79.94%
Sheirl Fletcher
Votes: 41,118
Percent: 20.06%
2010 GENERAL
Joe Manchin
Votes: 283,358
Percent: 53.47%
John Raese
Votes: 230,013
Percent: 43.4%
2010 PRIMARY
Joe Manchin
Unopposed
2008 GENERAL
Joe Manchin
Votes: 492,697
Percent: 69.78%
Russ Weeks
Votes: 181,612
Percent: 25.72%
2008 PRIMARY
Joe Manchin
Votes: 264,775
Percent: 74.62%
Melvin Kessler
Votes: 90,074
Percent: 25.38%
Prior Winning Percentages
2010 special (53%); Governor: 2008 (70%), 2004 (64%)

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