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Selling Progress in Appalachia

A MAN WEARING a canvas shirt tucked into blue jeans walks through the tall grass, clicks a break-action shotgun, and fires a round. “I approve this message,” he says. The camera zooms in on the target as it explodes in the distance.

It is not a TV ad for a Republican, though a similar shotgun did appear in a controversial ad run last fall by Georgia’s recently inaugurated Republican governor Brian Kemp. The scene comes, instead, from a spot for the senior Democratic senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin, who was reelected in November. The target he shoots displays a sign saying “lawsuit on coverage of pre-existing conditions,” referring to a 2018 case brought against the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by two governors and eighteen state attorneys general, among them Manchin’s Republican opponent, Patrick Morrisey. Before Manchin fires the round, he calls Morrisey “dead wrong.” In this genius—and electorally effective—feat of political messaging, Manchin packages a liberal policy idea in a conservative cultural form.

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