The group of Democrats’ voters, nibbling appetizers off paper plates covered with the American flag in a city hall basement, had been listening to a party official’s pleas to get engaged with politics when Terri Rodebaugh lifted her hand to voice her displeasure.
Saying, “I’m exhausted of being called a baby killer, which I am not at all,” Rodebaugh, wearing a pink shirt and gray hair like most of the people in the room, spoke out. However, for party loyalists and pro-choice West Virginians like Rodebaugh in Nicholas County, it came to this: being called names like this.
Voters in Nicholas County and most of the rest of West Virginia remained consistently Democratic during most of the 20th century, favoring the party even during its worst moments. When George W. Bush won the state’s electoral votes in 2000, that all shifted, and by 2020, roughly 78% of Nicholas County voters had supported candidate Donald Trump. Overall, West Virginians endorsed him at the second-highest rate of any state in the union.
The Democrats staged a counterprotest after the then-president’s followers strolled through Summersville, the county seat, a few weeks prior to that year’s election. Then, in their pickup trucks, Trump fans pulled up outside the party’s buildings, giving up stones and burning out tires.
Shortly after, the landlords phoned and requested that the Democrats vacate. From then on, the party has been traveling, holding meetings in restaurants, churches, and recently at Summersville’s municipal hall.
After working on the local party chairman for decades, John Jarrell, 81, stated, “I never dreamed Nicholas County would ever go Republican. Furthermore, I had no idea that the state of West Virginia would ever vote Republican.
It appears that the Democratic party’s influence in the state is about to collapse.
Voters continued to support one Democrat, Joe Manchin, even as the Republican Party was confirming its hold on the state’s political landscape. Manchin, a two-term governor, won a Senate seat in 2010 and, less than ten years later, rose to prominence in the political landscape by declining to back Biden’s proposals aimed at combating poverty, the climate crisis, and a plethora of other social ills.
Manchin was going to run for office again in 2024, and there was a lot of discussion about his chances of earning a third consecutive term as the representative of his ruby red state. West Virginians will never find out, though, since Manchin declared earlier this month that he would not seek the Senate again and is openly considering a third-party presidential bid.
Democrats Unseat Manchin
Politicians usually believe that a different Democrats can unseat Manchin, and by the beginning of 2025, the party might not control any statewide elected positions in West Virginia for the first time since 1931.
There will be less representation of us. The Nicholas County Democratic Party chair, Pam Tucker-Cline, spoke about Manchin‘s departure as the 27 attendees of the gathering trickled out into the Summersville night. “I believe that few people are conscious of his services to the state.”
Party leaders aren’t going to give up, but they admit they’re not entirely sure how to get back to the front in a state that doesn’t have many of the characteristics that help Democrats succeed elsewhere.
Even though Democrats controlled the Senate by a slim majority—just one vote—any senator could thwart any proposal that lacked Republican support.
Democratic member of West Virginia’s House of Delegates Kayla Young recalls how national advocacy groups flocked to Charleston, the nation’s capitol, in an attempt to persuade Manchin to halt his blockade. For a year, we were all basically Manchin whisperers since everyone was eager to meet him and learn more about him, according to Young.