Ron Sachs / AP
On Wednesday Feb 8, West Virginia's Democratic Senator Joe Manchin welcomed the Breitbart News editorial team to his Capitol Hill office for an hourlong off-the-record "get to know you" session. It was part of a behind-the-scenes process — kicked off post-election and led by Manchin's communications director Jonathan Kott — to establish warmer relations with the right-wing news outlet.
Why this matters: No other Democratic Senator has done a session like this with Breitbart; and most Democrats wouldn't touch the website with a 30-foot pole. But getting on with the controversial populist nationalist site — which has its former chairman Steve Bannon as the President's top adviser — could prove helpful to Manchin, who faces a tough re-election in 2018.
Breitbart's recent coverage of Manchin:
- Feb 13, 2017: Breitbart got the exclusive that Manchin "Joins Effort to Revoke Social Security Rule Suspending Beneficiaries' Gun Rights Without Due Process". Behind the scenes: Kott decided that instead of issuing a press release he'd give this announcement to Breitbart exclusively. He says it paid off. The story rocketed around gun-owning circles in West Virginia and was picked up by hunter, sportsman and gun publications.
- Feb 2, 2017: Breitbart got the exclusive that Manchin was "Pleased Trump Told Iran 'We Are Not Going to Play Their Games'".
- Jan 24, 2017: Breitbart got the exclusive that Manchin would be "the first Democrat to publicly back [Trump's] selection for Secretary of State in ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson"
- Jan 16, 2017: Breitbart headline: "Dem Sen Manchin: Boycotting Inauguration and Saying Trump's Not Legitimate Gives Russia What It Wants"
- Jan 12, 2017: Breitbart highlighted Manchin's announcement that he'd vote for Attorney General Jeff Sessions (a move greatly appreciated by Trumpland and among top Breitbart brass)
- Jan 6, 2017: West Virginia's Democrat Senator Joe Manchin: Nominee Scott Pruitt 'Has the Right Experience' to Lead EPA
These headlines are a far cry from March 2015, when Breitbart published a major hit piece against Manchin. The opening paragraph:
"West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin has navigated the changing politics of his home state by crafting an image of an independent-minded, moderate Democrat. Despite his occasional bipartisan bluster, however, he is as reliable a vote for progressives and President Obama as any other Senate Democrat. His public advocacy for the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be Attorney General puts a lie to his well-crafted maverick myth."
Other things you should know about Manchin's conservative media outreach (which, unlike the Breitbart post-election outreach, has been going on for years):
- Unlike most Democrats, he's spent significant time cultivating a number of influential conservative media outlets and personalities.
- Since the election he's gotten to know Sean Hannity. They have spoken several times over the phone.
- He recently met with the Daily Caller and did a video interview with Ginni Thomas (the conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.) The piece's headline: "Manchin Hammers Obama's Failed Policies, Praises Trump For Getting Things Done".
- He's got a longstanding relationship with Fox Business, and especially host Neil Cavuto.
- He's close to the Fox & Friends crew, particularly Brian Kilmeade.
- He's gotten to know and like the Washington Examiner's Salena Zito, who traveled to West Virginia in November to write a profile on Manchin.