MANCHIN SEIZES ON ‘HICKY’ OPPORTUNITY…. Once thought to be a fairly safe contest for Democrats, the U.S. Senate race in West Virginia is quickly slipping away, with right-wing Floridian John Raese (R) taking the lead in several recent polls. West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) remains popular, but is struggling in light of attack ads connecting him to President Obama, who is deeply unpopular in the state.

The Republicans’ “hicky” ad offers a chance to change the momentum. The spot, financed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, was aired after having been filmed in Philadelphia, with actors told to appear “hicky” in order to “look” West Virginian. In fairness, there are a couple of degrees of separation between the NRSC and the words used by the ad agency’s casting call, but Dems are operating under a modified Pottery Barn rule: they bought it, so they own it.

With that in mind, the Manchin campaign has unveiled this new ad, which touches all the bases. “John Raese thinks we’re hicks,” the ad says. “His people hired actors from Philadelphia to attack Joe Manchin, and told them to dress ‘hicky.’ It’s insulting, and he didn’t even apologize.”

Note, the spot ties this into related themes, including the fact that Raese’s family moved to Florida (“Obviously, we’re not good enough for him”).

We’ll see soon enough whether this helps change the trajectory of the race, but don’t underestimate the cultural element here. Josh Marshall noted, “Republicans playing on the supposed elitism of national Democrats is a constant theme in Appalachia. But Manchin is a very popular Democratic governor. What’s got him in a tight race is President Obama and the national mood on the right. An ad like this attempts to put the lie to that whole Republican narrative.”

No one likes to be mocked by outsiders.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.