By JAKE ZUCKERMAN
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. - Democratic incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin has an eight-point lead in his re-election bid, although his challenger has a zealous following that could pose a threat, according to a new poll released Friday.
Rex Repass, of Research America Inc., presented his West Virginia Poll at the annual Chamber of Commerce business summit at The Greenbrier resort.
According to his data, 46 percent of likely voters indicated support for Manchin, while 38 percent of them indicated support for his Republican challenger, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. Sixteen percent of voters are undecided.
The results are based on data from 404 respondents, interviewed between Aug. 16 and Aug. 26. President Donald Trump visited West Virginia to endorse Morrisey on Aug. 21. The poll has a 5 percent margin of error.
Repass said Manchin's edge comes with a caveat, namely a high level of enthusiasm from some of Morrisey's supporters.
"Morrisey voters tend to be more interested and engaged in this year's election than Manchin voters - which could impact voter turnout," the poll states.
Looking deeper, the data shows two general trends: Manchin's disapproval ratings have climbed, while voters still don't know what to make of Morrisey.
About 43 percent of voters approve of Manchin - who has also served West Virginia as a legislator, secretary of state and governor - compared to about 39 percent who disapprove. About 18 percent are unsure of what to think.
Repass said Manchin's disapproval numbers are now at a five-year high.
Manchin's approval is about even with that of Gov. Jim Justice, according to Repass' data. However, political attacks from the president and vice president and a steady drumbeat of negative broadcast advertising are likely slogging down Manchin's numbers.
On the other hand, Repass' data shows voters giving Morrisey a collective shrug. About 31 percent of respondents approved of him, while 36 percent disapprove. The other 33 percent just don't know.
The West Virginia Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship could not join the Senate ballot with the Constitution Party after losing in the Republican primary. The poll confirms the findings of earlier polling that indicated a Blankenship appearance on the ballot would snag more votes from Morrisey than his opponent, leaving Manchin with an 11-point lead over the attorney general.
Looking at voter trends at large, Repass said he sees a growing populist trend in West Virginia voters' outlooks. He said despite the state leaning further to the political right, more and more West Virginians are growing distrustful of "big business" and "large corporations."
Also at the event Friday, Manchin and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., addressed the crowd.
Manchin didn't touch on the poll directly. Instead, he spoke of a spread of different issues including a decline in the ability to work together in the Senate, along with a number of policy points like clean energy, tax reform, immigration reform and efforts to bring broadband to West Virginia.
Both Manchin and Capito also told stories about the late Sen. John McCain, ranging from his force of will in the chamber, his time spent as a prisoner of war and his sometimes-barbed sense of humor.
Capito also discussed the merits of the recently passed tax reform package, highlighting the "opportunity zones" - shelters for private dollars in economically distressed communities from capital gains taxes - it opened in West Virginia and their economic potential.