Senator-elect Manchin Asserts His Independence

Charleston, WV -- Democrats in West Virginia and Washington celebrated Governor Joe Manchin's Senate victory, which assures the party will hold on to the seat of the late Senator Robert Byrd.

However, Manchin made it clear that if Senate Democrats are looking for someone to toe the party line, they've found the wrong man.

"If there's a different direction that somebody wants me to go because it's their agenda and not West Virginia's agenda, it's not what I'll do," Manchin said at a late afternoon press conference in the state capitol building. "I never have and don't intend to start now."

Political analysts say Manchin will be under considerable pressure from both sides of the aisle.

"His Democratic colleagues will emphasize that he needs to be a team player, but he also knows that folks back home are not big President Obama supporters," said pundit Stu Rothenberg. "[Manchin] has promised independence, and I think he'll have to walk a very fine line."

The Senator-elect has long stated his opposition to the Democrat-backed cap and trade legislation which many West Virginians think would adversely affect the coal mining industry, which is critical to the Mountain State's economy.Manchin went a step further Wednesday, saying President Obama and Washington Democrats had "overreached" and "gone too far" on health care legislation.

But Manchin said he would not back any Republican effort to repeal health care legislation. "That makes no sense at all," he said. "I agree with covering pre-existing conditions."Manchin emerged victorious after a bruising campaign during which wealthy Republican businessman John Raese said a vote for Manchin equals a vote for Obama, who is hugely unpopular in West Virginia.

Unlike Obama, Governor Manchin is so popular here that early in the race many political handicappers predicted Manchin would cruise to victory. The race deteriorated into mudslinging over the airwaves, and the Raese camp tightened the polls by painting Manchin as a rubber stamp for Obama in Washington.

In the end Manchin's popularity carried the day, and Raese became a four-time loser of statewide races in West Virginia.

There will be little rest for Manchin and West Virginians weary of the campaign season, because this contest was a special election to serve out the last two years of Byrd's term. The seat will be up for grabs again in 2012.