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Do Rankings of Most Unpopular Senators Spell Trouble for Vulnerable Democrats?

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Republicans have been on track to have a particularly favorable map for 2024, not only when it comes to holding onto seats they are defending, but also those where they have a real chance at picking up. It's not only not likely that Democrats will have much of a shot picking up seats in Florida, Missouri, or Texas, but they might also be in trouble in Montana, West Virginia, and Ohio. 

Of those three, only Sens. Jon Tester of Montana and Sherrod Brown of Ohio have announced they are running for reelection, which means Democrats at least have the advantage of incumbency. 

In West Virginia, however, Sen. Joe Manchin has yet to declare that he's running again. In fact there is even some chatter he may run for president. Whatever he decides, we may not know for some time. He's also the most in trouble, according to last week's release of a Morning Consult poll showing the country's most and least popular senators and governors.

Tester is actually the ninth most popular senator in the country, with a 58 percent approval rating and a 33 percent disapproval rating. He's the only vulnerable incumbent running for reelection in that top 10 list. 

Even more telling is that Tester also fares well when it comes to voters who disapprove of President Joe Biden. The poll's write-up notes that "Tester boasts a notable distinction from other vulnerable incumbent Democrats: A good chunk of the people who disapprove of Biden’s job performance approve of his."

When it comes to the share of voters who disapprove of Biden, 42 percent approve of Tester. While 49 percent still disapprove of him, Tester nevertheless enjoys the highest approval ratings among seven Democratic senators up for reelection in 2024. 

Then again, Tester did only win reelection in 2018 by 3.5 points against now Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT), who may challenge him once more. And that year was considered to be a blue wave. Sabato's Crystal Ball considers the 2024 race to be a "Toss-Up" and Inside Elections considers it to be a "Battleground Democratic" race. 

When it comes to Brown, he's on neither the top 10 most popular, not the top 10 most unpopular senators list. Among those voters who disapprove of Biden, he only has a 27 percent approval rating, while 51 percent disapprove. Among the seven senators included, though, he still has the third-highest approval rating. Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin has the lowest approval rating in that category, at 17 percent, while a whopping 70 percent disapprove.

Brown won reelection in 2018 by nearly 7 points, but Ohio is becoming increasingly red. Further, former and potentially future President Donald Trump is popular there, and may very well be on the ballot for the general as well as primary race ballot. 

Republican candidates have already entered the race to be able to unseat Brown, including state Sen. Matt Dolan and businessman Bernie Moreno. The race is currently considered a "Toss-Up."

Manchin is the one on everyone's mind even though, and again, we still don't know if he's even running for reelection. 

The poll's write-up attributes that to his support for the misnamed Inflation Reduction Act, something he admitted would not actually do anything to help lower inflation in the short-term. He also agreed to give his crucial support in return for permitting reforms, only to then ask Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to remove it from the continuing resolution after many of his fellow Democrats made clear that they were not involved in those negotiations and would not give their support.

While Manchin has more recently shared his misgivings about the bill Biden signed into law last August, it might be too little, too late.

He's currently the second most unpopular senator, with a 38 percent approval rating. Over half, at 55 percent, disapprove of his job performance. Among voters who disapprove of Biden, Manchin has a 34 percent approval rating, putting him second behind Tester. He still has a 59 percent disapproval rating, though. 

The poll also details how, should he run for reelection, he will quite possibly face Gov. Jim Justice, a term-limited Republican. Justice is tied with Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH) for the third most popular governor, with each enjoying 66 percent support. At 29 percent, Sununu's disapproval ratings are slightly better than Justice's 31 percent. 

"In West Virginia, Manchin — once one of America’s most popular senators — has seen his popularity crumble, and national Republicans are hoping to recruit Justice, who is term limited, to challenge him. That contest would pit one of the country’s most unpopular incumbents against one of its most popular, according to the latest quarterly surveys," the poll's write-up notes. 

The write-up even includes its own section comparing Manchin to Justice, who is expected to announce his Senate campaign in the coming days. 

Of particular note is that Manchin even has a lower approval rating among Democrats--members of his own party--than Justice does, though it's worth noting that Justice was formerly a Democrat. Fifty-two percent of Democrats approve of Justice, while 49 percent approve of Manchin. 

As was the case with Tester, Manchin's win from 2018 was a narrow one, by 3.3 points against Republican Patrick Morrisey, who is currently the attorney general and who is running for governor. 

Manchin, however, is not the most unpopular senator. That distinction belongs to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). He has just 28 percent approval rating, while 64 percent disapprove.

The polls were conducted January 1-March 21 with registered voters in each state. The margin of error varied from plus or minus 1 percentage point to plus or minus 6 percentage points.


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