(CNN) - Four candidates will be on the stage in West Virginia Monday night for the first and possibly only debate in the battle for an open Senate seat in that Democrats have controlled for over half a century.
The debate, in Morgantown, West Virginia includes Gov. Joe Manchin, the Democrat's nominee, businessman John Raese, the Republican nominee, Jess Johnson of the Mountain Party and Jesse Becker of the Constitution Party. A crowded stage with four candidates would seem to help Manchin, a popular two-term governor.
"Manchin isn't the incumbent, but he's the de-facto incumbent - the 800 pound gorilla in the race. Anytime the anti-Manchin/anti-Obama/anti-Pelosi vote divides, it helps Manchin, says Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report.
The winner of the special election in November will fill out the final two years of the term of Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd, who died earlier this year. Byrd was first elected to the Senate in 1958.
A CNN/Time/Opinion Research Corporation poll released last Wednesday indicated that Manchin and Raese were dead even at 44 percent among likely voters. Other recent polls also indicated a close contest.
But a Marshall University poll released Friday suggested a ten point advantage for Manchin. The Marshall University survey was conducted by Orion Strategies, a public relations, political consulting and advertising business founded and owned by Curtis Wilkerson, who presently, and has in the past, advised and assisted Democratic candidates in the state. Wilkerson tells CNN that while he does assist Democratic candidates, his organization's polls conducted for West Virginia universities, colleges, and media outlets are non-partisan.
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