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Conservative Senate Democrat Who Backs Trump’s Agenda Defeats Progressive Challenger

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) beat back his progressive primary challenger Tuesday, easily securing the Democratic nomination in a heated race in a state where President Donald Trump enjoys his highest approval ratings.

The 70-year-old, two-term senator trounced Paula Jean Swearengin, an activist and coal miner’s daughter who ran on a progressive platform calling for single-payer health care, a $15 minimum wage, free public college tuition, legal marijuana and bans on fracking and mountaintop removal. 

Manchin, the conservative Democrat ― who has, by one estimate, voted in line with the White House agenda 61 percent of the time, more than any other senator in his party ― had the advantage of incumbency, a 36-year history in West Virginia politics, and a nearly $6 million war chest. Swearengin, a self-professed “hillbillyendorsed by groups aligned with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), raised less than $180,000 by the end of March.

Manchin will face Patrick Morrissey, the state’s attorney general, who defeated U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins and ex-convict and former coal baron Don Blankenship to earn the Republican nomination Tuesday. 

It will be a challenging race for Manchin. Trump won West Virginia by 42 percentage points in 2016 and remains enormously popular in the state. Republicans are so eager to flip Manchin’s seat that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has considered lengthening the Senate workweek to keep the West Virginia senator from campaigning. 

The Mountain State remains one of the poorest in the country and has struggled with an epidemic of opioid addiction and the continued closures of coal-fired plants.