Charleston, WV (CNN) – At a diner in Charleston and a parade in Milton, I heard something repeatedly from West Virginia voters that you almost never hear about any politician these days: they love their governor, Joe Manchin.
Both Democratic and Republican voters said they think Manchin has done a great job for this state. They note that he's lowered the state's deficit, showed compassion for the state's coal miners, and fought for the coal industry.
What I heard most about Manchin was that he's "for the people."
That adoration is why Manchin was supposed to sail to victory in his race to replace the late Robert Byrd in the U.S. Senate.
But the race is suddenly tight, and we could easily see and hear why. The reason is fascinating. West Virginia voters are furious at Washington, and aren't sure they want to send a Democrat there, even the governor they really like.
"I won't be voting for him for Senate," said Nathan Rose, manager of the First Watch Diner in Charleston, "I just want someone who is going to stand up against the way things are going," he said.
Dave Ridel told me the same thing along a parade route in Milton, just after the governor passed by, waving to the crowd.
"I voted for him both times he's run here in West Virginia, but going to Washington, it scares me to death that he's just going to be a rubber stamp," Ridel said. "I'm afraid he's going to be a rubber stamp for [President] Obama and Harry Reid and Nancy Pelsoi."
Manchin told me in an interview before the parade that he is well aware of this stunning dynamic. It's the reason polls show him in an extremely tight race against Republican John Raese.
"Are you feeling the wave against your party?" I asked.
"Oh absolutely," he said. There's a wave "against the party, against the national movement, absolutely. I'm as mad as they are. I'm as mad as they are with what's going on in Washington"
"The bottom line here is that people don't want government on their backs and they want them out of their pocket," Manchin told me. "Democrats in Washington are in control and so absolutely it resonates to them."
"I think in Washington there is an expanding entitlement mentality that we don't adhere to in West Virginia," added Manchin, with a not-so-subtle slap at Democrats in the nation's capital.
"We didn't do that in West Virginia and I sure wouldn't vote for it and do that in Washington," he said.
So how would he be different from his fellow Democrats in Washington?
Manchin, who supported the Democrats' health care reform legislation, told me he now believes part of the health care law should be repealed. He said there are about seven parts of the bill everyone agrees on, including eliminating caps on coverage and pre-existing conditions, but everything else should be on the table for a possible repeal.
He said he would sit down with Republicans and "repeal what we don't like and what we don't agree on, the far reaching things."
Manchin also told me he disagrees with President Obama and other Democratic leaders that only middle class tax cuts should be extended.
"I would leave all tax cuts in place. All of them," he said.
The popular governor readily admitted that Obama's low approval rating in his state is dragging him down.
"It has made a difference in my race," Manchin conceded. But "President Obama not on the ballot . He will not be a U.S. senator. He's definitely not on the ballot in West Virginia. It is me."
Raese is doing everything he can to convince West Virginia voters otherwise, and is now getting some $3 million dollars from national Republicans for television ads calling Manchin an Obama rubber stamp.
We will talk to Raese about some of his views later today.