Manchin argued throughout his last reelection campaign that it was his upbringing in the small Appalachian town set on the banks of Buffalo Creek — from working at his family’s local grocery store to watching how relationships in his hometown transcended political lines — that helped make him a politician who would listen to even his most ardent detractors and use his power to make sure every bipartisan avenue was exhausted before he picked the best option for the people of his state.
But back home, Manchin is facing a set of opposing forces. Republicans in the state, loyal to former President Donald Trump and consumed with the partisan politics of the moment, have grown annoyed at how Manchin signals a willingness to break with Democrats but often votes with the party in the end. And many Democrats in the state, worn down by years of Republican domination, worry that Manchin’s undying focus on bipartisanship is no longer possible when the Republican Party is unwilling to meet in the middle.
This tension has forced the tenets of Manchin’s personal and political story to run up against a changing world.
Farmington, the town that made Manchin, has fallen on hard times in recent years, struggling to hold on to population as jobs have moved elsewhere and local businesses have shuttered. And Manchin’s brand of bipartisan politics, one partially informed by the mentorship he enjoyed from the late Sen. Robert Byrd, is that of a bygone era, as partisan politics and party line votes take hold everywhere from Washington to the state capital of Charleston.
“As much as I appreciate Joe’s ideal — maybe that is where his heart is at and maybe that is because of his roots — there has to come a time when you have to realize (Republicans) are not going to sit down and hold hands and sing kumbaya,” said Donna Costello, the former mayor of Manchin’s hometown and a longtime friend of the Manchin family. “And you have to do what is in the best interest of what put you there.”
Manchin, 73, is now the only Democrat holding statewide office in West Virginia. Top Democrats in the state know if he were not in his Senate seat, a Republican invariably would be. And plenty of voters, including those who voted for Trump multiple times, are proud that their senator, even though he is a Democrat, is willing to try and make bipartisanship work.
“You have to meet somewhere in the middle,” said John Ross, a Marion County voter who worked at the Manchin family’s carpet store in the 1980s. Ross voted for former President Donald Trump in both 2016 and 2020, but during Manchin’s 2018 reelection campaign, he backed his old friend. “You have to be able to have a common goal — what’s in the best interest of…