On paper the West Virginia senate seat should be a good pick up target for Republicans in 2012. The state voted overwhelmingly for the Republican candidate in the past several presidential elections and the voters in the state strongly dislike President Obama. Despite that it looks like the Democrats will easily hold the seat thanks to the remarkable popularity of incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin.

According to PPP’s latest poll Manchin is one of the most popular senators in the country, 59 percent of voters in the state approve of Manchin job performance and just 29 percent disapprove. From PPP:

If Manchin had to stand for reelection this year he’d be close to unbeatable.  Shelley Moore Capito continues to be his strongest potential opponent.  She has a 51/33 favorability rating and the amount of crossover support from Democrats that a Republicans needs to win statewide in West Virginia.  But despite all that she trails Manchin by 16 points in a hypothetical match up, 52-36.  And she doesn’t seem that likely to run anyway.

There’s not a terribly long Republican bench in West Virginia. We tested the state’s other GOP Congressman, David McKinley, as well and he trails Manchin by 36 points at 60-24. He probably has his hands too full with winning a 2nd term in the House to even think about challenging Manchin.  And 2010 opponent John Raese would start at a 39 point deficit to Manchin, 62-23. He likely wouldn’t come anywhere close to doing as well as he did even last year in a repeat bid.

What is impressive about Manchin’s popularity is that he was governor of the state from 2005-2010. Most politicians that were governors during the national economic crash in 2008-9 saw their popularity pulled down along with the state of the economy. Unlike some small states like North Dakota, West Virginia was not spared in the economic downturn. It’s unemployment went from around 4 percent in 2007 to over 9 percent by the end of 2010, which was only slightly better the national average.

That fact that Manchin managed to buck the trend by remaining extremely popular despite West Virginia suffering significantly in this recession is a remarkable political feat.