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Published: Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Page: 1C

Staff writer

After meeting with other "centrist" leaders of the Democratic Party for two days in Chicago, Gov. Joe Manchin said Monday he believes Illinois Sen. Barack Obama can carry West Virginia in November.

"I've told Barack, 'You need to come to West Virginia and sit down and talk,'" Manchin said.

Manchin said a number of those attending the Democratic Leadership Council meeting do not believe Obama, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, can win the votes of white men, but "I think he can."

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton crushed Obama in the West Virginia primary in May. Exit polls showed he did poorly with blue-collar men with little or no college education.

West Virginia - a state with a small minority population and the lowest percentage of college-educated residents in the nation - is full of working-class white men. Manchin called them "the types of people that have a Ph.D. in life."

Clinton, along with her husband and daughter, campaigned across the state, while Obama made just two visits to the state. Clinton's campaign reported spending $99,700 in West Virginia, while Obama's spent $33,300.

Obama received about 26 percent of the vote and, according to exit polls, only about one-third of Clinton's supporters said they would vote for him.

Manchin, however, believes more will come to the Illinois senator's side by November.

"I've been very impressed with Barack's campaign," he said. "They are intelligent."

Pollsters have said Republicans will have a difficult time nationally, with a poor economy, an unpopular war in Iraq and historically low popularity ratings for President Bush. Those same pollsters expect Sen. John McCain, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, to win West Virginia.

However, Democrats have pointed to a strong statewide ticket they believe could help Obama. Manchin warned Republicans they could be in for a surprise on Election Day.

That includes Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who along with Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., endorsed Obama early. Manchin is also running for re-election and most believe the Democrats' statewide nominees will also be strong.

"I think [McCain's] in for a rude awakening," Manchin said, noting the nation's poor economic conditions. "He's underestimating the people of West Virginia."

The governor said he expects McCain's campaign to try to use differences on social issues to split the Democratic vote in the state. "They'll try to use the social issues, the scare tactics, that Republicans have used in the past," he said.

Manchin noted the moderate Democrat leaders in the DLC, which was begun by Al From, a Bill Clinton supporter, are across the board on social issues. An example is Manchin's opposition to abortion, something that goes against a plank in the national party's platform.

Manchin spoke on a panel with Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen during last week's meeting that included elected officials from 45 states. All the states have differing problems, he said.

"The bottom line is [Obama] understands every state is different," Manchin said.

West Virginia, Manchin said, needs the federal government to be more flexible in regulations governing such programs as the Children's Health Insurance Program. Work force, or unemployment, programs, need to be expanded to allow workers to gain training for a new, better-paying job, he said.

Now such a person has to lose their job to gain federal benefits for retraining.

"It doesn't make any sense," Manchin said.

The governor said he wants "every working West Virginian to have health care." But he also said with 1 million of the state's about 1.8 million people residing in the 29 border counties it would be hard to accomplish without federal government help, he said.

"[Obama] understands that," Manchin said.

Problems like clean-coal research are too big for one state to handle. "That's a national problem, it's too big," Manchin said.

In looking for a vice presidential candidate, Manchin noted Obama has never been a governor. "It's where the rubber hits the road," he said of the job as governor. He noted governors have to do such things as balanced budgets.

"He has not been a governor, and I think it would serve him well to pick a governor," he said.

But Manchin believes Obama must first offer the vice presidential slot to Clinton. "If it's like she's shunned, that creates a whole other problem," he said.

Still, if another woman would be considered, he suggested Sebelius, calling her "an excellent governor and good CEO."

Reach Tom Searls at tom or 348-5198.

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