Manchin’s seat could tip the Senate scales in 2024
Popular Gov. Jim Justice challenges the moderate Democrat
In his home state of West Virginia, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin has a reputation for accessibility, reliability, and charm. Even as the state shifted from heavily Democratic to staunchly Republican in the past 40 years, the Democrat won elections for state senator, secretary of state, and governor. In the U.S. Senate since 2010, Manchin has garnered national attention as a moderate who pushes fellow Democrats to spend less taxpayer money.
“Manchin knows a good many of those [voters],” said Joey Garcia, a Democratic West Virginia delegate. “He may not remember every one of their names, but I’ll bet a majority have some sort of story where they’ve met the senator. … They may be voting Republican now, but they’ve been voting for Joe Manchin since the 1980s.”
Late last month, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced plans to run for Manchin’s Senate seat in 2024. Justice not only is popular with voters in the Mountain State but also has one other advantage: While Manchin is known for compromising with Republicans, Justice actually is one.
Going into the 2024 campaign season, Republicans hope to win back control of the Senate from Democrats, who are hanging on to a 51-49 majority. In West Virginia, Justice is projected to have the edge—for now. Before even announcing his candidacy, polling sponsored by the Senate Leadership Fund and conducted by the Tarrance Group showed that Justice found support among 52 percent of likely voters in the state compared to 42 percent for Manchin
Garcia used to work for Justice, who won election as governor in 2017 as a Democrat.
“I was his senior counsel for legislation and policy until eight months later when he decided to change parties,” Garcia said. “He’s a big ideas guy. He’s a populist—I don’t know that he’s a Democrat or a Republican.”
Garcia remembers thinking of Justice as a giant personality. He was a billionaire who made his fortune in the coal industry. He could find out what people wanted in a leader and provide it.
“I think he’s a caring person,” Garcia said. “During COVID he held press conferences every day and threaded the needle pretty well. [He was] a big proponent of vaccines and masks, but when people pushed back, he figured out how to do the popular thing.”
According to a study led last year by Morning Consultant, a survey and data firm, Justice boasts a 64 percent approval rating, making him the fifth most-popular governor in America.
Justice has also caught the attention of national Republican leaders like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. He will likely receive funding from the Senate Leadership Fund super PAC, which backing could separate him from other Republican challengers such as U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney, who has also announced his bid for the Senate.
Manchin hasn’t said whether he will run for reelection. In recent public statements, he highlighted his confidence in his electability.
“I will win any race I enter,” Manchin said in a recent interview.
Manchin has wielded enormous influence in debates on some of President Joe Biden’s largest legislative ambitions. Manchin refused to greenlight the nearly $4 trillion legislative package known as Build Back Better. His involvement and negotiation between members of the Democratic Party helped turn that gridlock into the bipartisan Infrastructure, Investment, and Jobs Act, which became law in November 2021.
Garcia said that if Manchin choses to run, he’s still the best chance Democrats have in the state. He has the best funding and political ability.
Del. Mike Pushkin, chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, agreed: “No one is more accessible than Sen. Manchin. He doesn’t care about what letter they have after their name. … He has exemplary constituent services.”
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