WHEELING - Sen. Joe Manchin could be in office for a very long time, as Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, N.C. now rates him "unbeatable."
Manchin, D-W.Va., has seen his approval rating grow since taking office in Washington, D.C., and his popularity with Republicans "makes up for his somewhat middling numbers with Democrats," the poll released Thursday indicates.
The approval rating for Manchin is now at 59 percent - up from 52 percent in January and 55 percent in April, according to data compiled by Public Policy Polling.
"If Manchin had to stand for re-election this year, he'd be close to unbeatable," the agency states within its polling results.
Manchin's approval rating upon leaving the office of West Virginia governor for the Senate in November 2010 was 70 percent, the company said. "Sen. Joe Manchin still can't quite match the popularity of Gov. Joe Manchin - but he's getting there," Public Policy Polling said.
The company conducted the poll of 708 likely West Virginia voters Sept. 1-4 while also polling the West Virginia governor's race.
While 59 percent said they approved of Manchin as U.S. senator, 26 percent said they disapproved and another 14 percent said they were not sure.
The polling results place him as the fifth-most popular senator among the 87 in which the organization has data - behind Democrat Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, Republicans John Barasso and Mike Enzi of Wyoming, and Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
What stood out with Public Policy Polling, however, was Manchin's 68 percent approval rating with Democrats, and 20 percent disapproval.
Manchin's approval number "actually isn't that great for a senator within his own party," the group's statement said. "That's due to voters on the left not being terribly enthralled with him - he's at only (50 percent approval/38 percent disapproval) with folks describing themselves as 'very liberal,' and that's the ideological group he does worst with.
"It's safe to say Manchin is the only Democratic senator in the country who's more popular with very conservative voters than very liberal ones. ... There are few senators who meet with more approval than disapproval across party lines."
Manchin was elected last year to the U.S. Senate term left vacant by the death of Robert C. Byrd, and Public Policy Polling believes the recent numbers should translate positively for Manchin as he prepares to seek re-election to a full six-year term in 2012.
The firm asked participants in their poll who they would be most likely to support in a race for Senate in 2012 between Manchin and three potential Republican challengers - Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, Rep. David McKinley and Republican John Raese, whom Manchin defeated in 2010.
Capito would fare best in a potential match-up, according to Public Policy Polling, but Manchin would still hold a 16 percent lead over her in the contest.
Capito's approval rating is a strong 51 percent, according to the data, but only 36 percent of respondents said they would vote for her over Manchin, with 52 percent indicating support for Manchin.
McKinley's approval rating was listed at 23 percent, with 25 percent giving him an unfavorable rating and a large 52 percent "not sure." He received only 24 percent of the vote in a potential match-up over Manchin.
Just 27 percent of those polled had a favorable opinion of Raese, while 43 percent were unfavorable. There were 23 percent who said they would vote for him over Manchin in a potential 2012 rematch.