(Bloomberg) -- Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has a nine percentage point lead over his GOP challenger, a new poll says, in a contest Republicans are targeting to expand their majority in the chamber.
Manchin, who previously served as West Virginia’s secretary of state and governor, leads opponent Patrick Morrisey 48 percent to 39 percent among all potential voters, according to the Monmouth University poll released on Wednesday.
When the 4 percent who said they may support defeated Republican Don Blankenship are allocated to their second choice, Morrisey’s support grows by four percentage points. Blankenship has said he may run in the general election but it’s unclear if he can appear on the ballot.
West Virginia has emerged as a key battleground for Republicans looking to flip a seat in the November elections and expand their slim 51-49 majority. The Republican-trending state voted for Trump by 42 percentage points in the 2016 election as he promised to revive its coal fields and rekindle the economy.
“West Virginia may be a deep red in presidential elections, but Joe Manchin has carved out a niche for himself, especially among older voters who see him as the type of Democrat they used to support for decades,” Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth poll, said in a statement announcing the findings.
Manchin is among several Democrats seeking re-election to the Senate who hail from states Trump took by large margins in the 2016 presidential election. In all, 10 Democratic senators are up for election in states the president won, and Manchin along with Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota are considered the most vulnerable.
Morrisey served as West Virginia’s attorney general and defeated U.S. Representative Evan Jenkins and Blankenship, a former coal executive and ex-convict who waged a scorched-earth race that in closing weeks included racially charged comments about the Chinese-American wife of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
In West Virginia’s southern tip, another fight has simmered as Democrats seek to take back the seat held by Jenkins, who in 2014 flipped a district that had been traditionally Democratic. Democrat Richard Ojeda is leading Republican state Delegate Carol Miller 43 percent to 41 percent in the contest, Monmouth University found.
Monmouth researchers surveyed 653 West Virginia voters between June 14 and 19 for the poll. The statewide results have an error margin of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.