U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., may be one of the smartest politicians in Washington. Many of his fellow Senate Democrats probably would disagree, but they would be wrong.
Something the senator said this week sums it all up. After reviewing his first year in office, Manchin was asked whether he will be voting for President Barack Obama in next year's election.
Manchin replied that in making up his mind on that, he will have to think about "what is best for West Virginia."
Most Democrats in Congress would deliver the knee-jerk response: Of course I'm voting for Obama. He's our party's president.
That's why Manchin is a better politician. He understands Obama is deeply unpopular in the Mountain State. He also recognizes the president - and Democrat leaders in Congress - are pursuing policies that are not in West Virginians' best interests.
Many Democrat lawmakers seem more interested in serving party leaders than doing what's right for constituents.
Given Manchin's background, it seems natural he's a maverick in that respect. Whether you agreed with Manchin in the past or not, he never hesitated to buck special interests in order to do what he thought was best for our state. In some ways he's cut from the same cloth as his predecessor, the late Sen. Robert Byrd.
Earlier this month, a bill to curb the Environmental Protection Agency's assault on coal came up in the Senate. It was defeated, because almost all Democrats voted against it. Just two - Manchin and Ben Nelson of Nebraska - voted in favor. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said no to the bill - backing his president and his party but letting down West Virginians. He was joined, incidentally, by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.
Manchin probably is in the doghouse with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other liberals including Obama.
But not with Mountain State voters.
Earlier this year, Public Policy Polling asked West Virginians whether they approve or disapprove of Manchin. An astounding 59 percent said they approved, while just 26 percent disapproved. That puts Manchin on the top five list of senators most liked by their constituents.
Rockefeller? He's way, way behind. Remember, Manchin has been in office only a year. Rockefeller was elected to the Senate in 1984 and has had lots of time to do favors that endear him to constituents.
Yet Public Policy Polling found only 45 percent of them approve of his performance - while 42 percent disapprove. That puts Rockefeller in a tie for 60th place in popularity among the 100 senators.
When Manchin runs for re-election next year, he'll win handily. He may not be getting invitations to all the get-togethers for staunch Democrats - but he'll be in Washington long after many of them have been called home by their constituents.
Why isn't there more sense of urgency about the so-called "supercommittee" in Congress? After all, if they don't agree on a deficit-reduction plan by the end of next week, the sky will fall, to listen to some commentators. Massive, automatic spending cuts, including some devastating to the military, will be triggered.
Think so? Think again.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, is one of the panel's 12 members. He told our reporter, Joselyn King, he's hopeful the "supercommittee" can recommend cuts that will stave off the automatic spending reductions mandated by Congress earlier this year.
But if that doesn't happen, Congress could approve "adjustments" to the mandate, Portman added.
In other words, the "automatic" cuts approved earlier will occur only if Congress - which established the requirement in the first place - doesn't change its mind.
If that happens, don't blame Portman. Like other conservatives, he's committed to cutting back on deficit spending. That is vital, as he noted, because the national debt hit a new milestone this week:
Myer can be reached via e-mail at: Myer@theintelligencer.net.