The plot thickens in West Virginia

The Senate vacancy resulting from Robert Byrd’s death produced what initially seemed like a decent opportunity for the Republicans to pick up that Senate seat. After all, West Virginia is no longer a solidly Democratic state. In addition, President Obama, who never quite connected with the state’s voters (both Hillary Clinton and John McCain defeated him handily in 2008), has become increasingly unpopular there.
But the Democrats caught a major break when popular governor Joe Manchin decided to seek Byrd’s old seat. Initial polling showed Manchin well in front of Republican John Raese, and most experts seemed ready to chalk this race up as a likely, and much-needed, win for the Dems.
As we noted earlier this week, though, recent polls suggest that the race tightening. A Rasmussen poll had Raese within 7 points of Manchin. And a PPP poll actually had Raese ahead by 3 points.
And now, according to Politico, new information about an ongoing federal investigation into Manchin’s administration is casting a cloud over his campaign. Previously, the governor’s office confirmed that the administration has received two federal subpoenas. And this week, came word, via a special assistant attorney general assigned to the case, that the investigation is focused on a multimillion- dollar highway project in Manchin’s hometown of Fairmont. Moreover, “anonymous sources” are telling news outlets that Manchin’s former chief of staff, state Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio, is involved in the probe. Puccio, a real estate agent and appraiser, is also from Fairmont.
It’s impossible reliably to assess the impact of this brewing scandal on Machin’s prospects, especially since we don’t know what additional information, if any, will leak out. But even if no new information surfaces, the Dems have reason for concern about this race.

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