U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin said President Obama’s years in office “could have been a lot better” and the state’s junior senator gave no indication he would vote for the Democratic president in the Nov. 6 general election.
“There’s some high water marks — foreign policy, Osama bin Laden, the auto industry (recovery) ... you can always second guess, but there’s some strong points,” said Manchin, D-W.Va., while eating a chicken burrito at Habanero Mexican Grill.
The downtown Martinsburg restaurant was among several places Manchin visited Tuesday in Martinsburg, Charles Town and Ranson as part of his “West Virginia First” listening tour.
“I would have lasered on the economy from Day One. You get your house in order, you can’t do all the things you want to do unless you can pay for them and you can’t keep putting more burden on the debt ... and we just keep throwing more on and the debt keeps growing and growing.”
Manchin, who is opposed in the general election by Republican John Raese, defended his absence from the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., this week, saying he wasn’t the only party leader who would not be attending.
Manchin said he was focused on his own re-election campaign, noting he had a difficult election in 2010.
In a special election that year, Manchin defeated Raese by 10 percentage points in his bid to complete the unexpired term of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd.
Manchin said he wasn’t running away from his party, but said he doesn’t conform with a lot of things the Democratic Party wants to do on the national level, either.
“I’m not a Washington Democrat and I got friends who are not Washington Republicans. The bottom line is I’m a proud West Virginia Democrat,” Manchin said.
“We’re letting the personal, social issues drive the agenda and that should never be.”
When asked if he would vote for Obama, Manchin said he had “troubles” with both the incumbent and Romney.
Manchin faulted Romney for failing to embrace a “fair, equitable system of taxes” and was critical of Obama’s lack of attention on an energy policy and failure to make fixing the nation’s financial problems the “hallmark” of his agenda.
“We’ll see how it works out,” Manchin said of the race between Romney and Obama.
Regardless of who wins, Manchin said he expects major change will follow and separately pointed to impending changes in leadership in the Senate that could bring about a breakthrough on energy policies.
At Habanero Mexican Grill to get tacos Tuesday, Susan Dudics-Dean of Martinsburg didn’t realize Manchin would be there, but used the opportunity to pitch the idea of launching a national lottery to pay off the nation’s debt and address Social Security funding woes.
Manchin said he would forward the idea to “the finance people” and see what they say.
Pamela DeSensi-Lamanna, who was with Dudics-Dean, said she would be willing to take a half-day furlough and devote that part of her state employee salary to deficit reduction.
At the end of a tour of Blue Ridge Community and Technical College, Manchin met with several students, asking them about their majors and plans for the future.
One of the students, Kristie Parsons of Martinsburg, said after meeting Manchin that the improvement in the job market and continuation of financial aid programs are her primary concerns.
Parsons and two other women who sat with her at the college’s Internet cafe indicated they were undecided on whom they would vote for in the presidential election.
“I’m hopeful for a change in the economy,” said Parsons, who admitted she didn’t recognize Manchin.
Others who turned out Tuesday to support Manchin said they consider him to be family.
“My birthday was Friday; he called me,” said Martinsburg resident Lucy Smith, who turned 82. “And he calls me sometime in the evening and he’ll say, ‘Babe, whatcha doin’.”
Smith’s longtime friend, Milly Shepherd of Inwood, W.Va., said Manchin has visited her beauty shop, and she recounted how Manchin called to extend his condolences when her husband’s father died.
When asked if she was going to vote for Obama, Smith said “of course, I’m a Democrat.”
“I guess he’s doing the best he can,” said Smith, when asked what she thought of the president.