- West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin has yet to announce a reelection bid for 2024, but has been teasing a third-party run for president via the centrist organization No Labels.
- Several West Virginia Democrats in state legislature leadership positions shared their opinions with the Daily Caller News Foundation about the senator’s potential reelection bid and presidential aspirations.
- “Nobody that’s had the political career that he’s had and his age wants to get into a race and know that you’re not going to win. And the No Labels person has zero chance of getting 270 electoral votes — So Joe knows that,” state Senate Minority Leader Mike Woelfel told the DCNF.
West Virginia Democrats weighed in on Sen. Joe Manchin’s political future regarding whether he should run for reelection or as a third-party candidate for president in 2024.
Manchin has yet to announce a reelection bid and has been teasing a third-party run with the centrist organization No Labels, which some Democrats fear could hand the GOP the White House and more control in the Senate. Several Democratic members of the state legislature’s leadership told the Daily Caller News Foundation that they don’t think Manchin is deterred by the stiff Republican opposition he’d face in a reelection bid, but they are split as to the path they think he will take in 2024.
“Manchin is not intimidated about running against anybody,” state Senate Minority Leader Mike Woelfel said of Manchin’s GOP challengers for his Senate seat. “He’s a force, so I’m not going to count him out. He certainly would be considered by me an underdog, a substantial underdog, as we take a snapshot of this today.”
West Virginia Republican Gov. Jim Justice, the current frontrunner for the GOP primary, would handily beat Manchin by over 20 points, according to a May East Carolina University Center For Survey Research poll. The survey suggests that Justice is leading the other Republican primary candidate, Rep. Alex Mooney, 53% to 12%, who would also beat Manchin but by only 1 point.
“Justice and Manchin weren’t always seeing eye-to-eye, so I also find it a little bit hard to believe that [the senator] would run from that competition, because I could see them really wanting to compete for that,” state House Minority Leader Pro Tempore Sean Hornbuckle told the DCNF. “There’s no way that the Joe Manchin I know would run from a fight.”
While Woelfel doesn’t think Manchin would run for president, he and Hornbuckle are concerned a third-party presidential bid would enable GOP victories, they told the DCNF. Woelfel argued that while Manchin is entertaining the idea, he doesn’t believe the senator will seek the White House because it doesn’t fit his “persona.”
“Nobody that’s had the political career that he’s had and his age wants to get into a race and know that you’re not going to win. And the No Labels person has zero chance of getting 270 electoral votes — So Joe knows that,” Woelfel said. “The other thing is Senator Manchin is aware that his candidacy in that space assures Trump a reelection as president.”
No Labels has yet to choose a candidate for their third-party “unity ticket,” which it views as an “insurance policy” in the event of a rematch between Biden and Trump in 2024. If Trump isn’t the GOP nominee, and an alternative like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley or South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott faces Biden, the centrist organization will likely not run a candidate.
Though state House Minority Leader Doug Skaff said he wouldn’t count Manchin out of winning reelection, he acknowledged it would be “one of his toughest” races due to the change in West Virginia’s political landscape since the senator was last elected in 2018. West Virginia has become an increasingly red state and now has only three Democrats in the state Senate and 11 in the state House.
In June of 2018, just before Manchin was last elected, West Virginia had more registered Democrats than Republicans at 42.52% and 32.07%, respectively, according to the Secretary of State’s website. Former President Donald Trump trouncedPresident Joe Biden in 2020 by nearly 40 points, and as of May 2023 there are more registered Republicans than Democrats in the state by almost 8 points.
“It used to be where your party affiliation didn’t necessarily matter, they were voting for the person — they were voting for the person Joe Manchin. But now, having a ‘D’ by your name is tough,” Skaff said.
Skaff told the DCNF that Manchin is weighing a third-party bid because he believes it’s best for the country, as the senator is “tired of the constant bickering” between both political parties. While Skaff didn’t vocalize his preference as to whether the senator runs for another term or for the White House, he hopes Manchin won’t retire.
Woelfel, on the other hand, argued the “most likely” option for Manchin in 2024 is to retire, while Hornbuckle believes it’s possible the senator is thinking about stepping down.
“You do get used to winning and sometimes, that might be the best alternative rather than getting into a contested race,” Hornbuckle said.
In the event that Manchin doesn’t seek reelection, whether that be due to retirement or running for president, all three of the West Virginia lawmakers said that they haven’t heard any discussion about who would run as a Democrat in his place.
“I am laser focused on doing the job West Virginians elected me to do — lowering healthcare costs, protecting Social Security and Medicare, shoring up American energy security and getting our fiscal house in order,” Manchin told the DCNF in a statement. “But make no mistake, I will win any race I enter.”
Manchin began his political career in both chambers of the state legislature in the 1980s and 1990s before being elected as West Virginia’s Secretary of State in 2000, according to Ballotpedia. The senator served two terms as governor from 2004 to 2010 prior to his time in the U.S. Senate.
The former governor first secured the Senate seat via a special election in 2010, where he beat the GOP candidate 53.5% to 43.4%, and in 2012 he won by roughly 24 points, according to Ballotpedia. The senator narrowly won reelection in 2018, beating Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey by only 3.3 points.
Elgine McArdle, the chairman of the West Virginia Republican Party, and Curtis Workman, executive director for the West Virginia chapter of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, don’t see a successful path for Manchin in 2024 regardless of which path he takes and believe he should retire, instead.
“Joe Manchin is done. I think he’s politically done,” McArdle told the DCNF. “Joe Manchin does not have a shot at either the presidential race or the senatorial race.”
“I think that he has a beautiful yacht that’s parked in Washington, D.C., and I think that he should get more use out of it after he completes this term,” Workman said.
Greg Thomas, a GOP political operative in West Virginia, told the DCNF that he believes Manchin will run as a third-party candidate for president instead of seeking reelection. Thomas said Manchin decided he wasn’t running for Senate again last year when he supported Biden’s signature climate law, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which the political operative argued turned off many West Virginia voters.
“That was the turning point,” Thomas said. “If Manchin were considering running for U.S. Senate, he would have made different decisions.”
The West Virginia Democratic Party did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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