Jim Justice vs. Joe Manchin: The battle for West Virginia’s Senate seat

Following a headline-filled few years in which Democrat Joe Manchin has wielded outsized power and influence in the U.S. Senate, the leader of the lawmaker’s home state — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) — has announced his plan to run for the senator’s seat in 2024. “I am really a patriot, Brian, and I deeply love this country,” Justice told Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade of his decision. “I’m not a politician who wants something for me. … I want goodness for America.” To Republicans, the term-limited governor and his strong conservative record could prove exactly what the GOP needs to offset Democrats’ advantage in the Senate come the next election. “But make no mistake, I will win any race I enter,” Manchin, who has yet to announce whether he’s running again, said of Justice’s bid. “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.”

Even so, it’s possible Justice will present Manchin with his biggest threat in years … should the current senator join the fray, at all.

A GOP golden ticket

Characterized by Politico as a “prized recruit” for Senate Republicans eager to “flip a state that went for [former President Donald Trump] by nearly 40 points in 2020,” Justice is a “proven winner whose record of creating jobs, cutting taxes, and fighting for conservative values has made him one of the most popular governors in the country,” said GOP Sen. Steve Daines of Montana. Indeed, the former billionaire was ranked the fourth most popular state leader in the country in a Morning Consult survey conducted between January and March of this year. When compared to just Manchin, those numbers are just as good — among West Virginia voters, Babydog’s owner is more popular than his presumed Democratic opponent by an almost 30-point margin. “Governor Justice is an extraordinarily popular figure in West Virginia, and our polling shows he already dominates the Republican primary field and would be by far the strongest general election candidate to defeat Joe Manchin,” Torrun Sinclair, spokeswoman of the Senate Leadership Fund, a GOP-aligned Super PAC, recently told Fox News Digital.

In addition to a statewide abortion ban, Justice’s conservative credentials include sweeping tax cuts across West Virginia and vocal support for the second amendment and gun rights. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Manchin’s Senate counterpart, has said that she and the governor would make “a good pair up in Washington.”

It will be tough — but don’t underestimate Manchin

While it certainly might not be a walk in the park, a Manchin victory is not out of the question. Not only is he sitting on a war chest of at least $9 million, but he might also benefit from a bit of GOP infighting on the opposite side of the ticket, where Republican Rep. Alex Mooney is challenging Justice for his party’s nomination. “West Virginia’s GOP Senate primary is going to be a nasty, messy, and expensive fight, and whichever candidate manages to hobble out of their intraparty battle will be damaged and out of step with the voters who will decide the general election,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesperson Amanda Sherman Baity said recently, per The Washington Post

Let’s also not forget this isn’t Manchin’s first rodeo. He has already done the politically impossible — won Democratic office in a deeply red state — all the while proving himself “a centrist who can appeal to a variety of voters,” The Wall Street Journal writes, per Democratic strategist Mike Plante. “Even if you disagree with him, you have a sense it’s not political posturing. It’s genuinely what he believes in,” Plante said. Justice, meanwhile, might actually find that his switch from Democrat to Republican back in 2017 plays more to his detriment than benefit. “You want a proven conservative, I’m your guy,” Mooney told Hoppy Kercheval of West Virginia’s MetroNews. “I have a voting record you can look at. You want someone who’s more of a liberal Republican, there’s Jim Justice.”

And at this point, though Manchin appears to be sweating the political ramifications of his support for the Inflation Reduction Act (even going so far as to threaten its repeal), he might find that his gamble pays off once the election rolls around. “[T]here’s probably going to be 10,000-15,000 new jobs created because of the Inflation Reduction Act. If he gets permitting reform done, there’ll be a pipeline that gets up and running,” said former Manchin aide Jonathan Kott, speaking with Morning Consult. “I think all those things are pretty good campaign messages.”

Following a headline-filled few years in which Democrat Joe Manchin has wielded outsized power and influence in the U.S. Senate, the leader of the lawmaker’s home state — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) — has announced his plan to run for the senator’s seat in 2024. “I am really a patriot, Brian, and I…

Following a headline-filled few years in which Democrat Joe Manchin has wielded outsized power and influence in the U.S. Senate, the leader of the lawmaker’s home state — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) — has announced his plan to run for the senator’s seat in 2024. “I am really a patriot, Brian, and I…