Manchin must decide soon on risky run for West Virginia governor

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has about a week left to decide his political future as he comes under mounting pressure to consider a gubernatorial bid against his past rival, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R).

Manchin is getting encouragement to run for his old job in the governor’s mansion from West Virginia Republicans who aren’t happy that Morrisey narrowly beat former state lawmaker Moore Capito, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s (R-W.Va.) son, in last week’s Republican gubernatorial primary.

“There are definitely people interested in him running who are Republicans. The guy who won the [Democratic] nomination is not known as the most prolific campaigner. Manchin clearly has the desire to keep serving the people of West Virginia. I’m sure he’s considering it,” said a source familiar with West Virginia’s political scene.

Hoppy Kercheval, a leading commentator on West Virginia politics, reported Tuesday that “the possibility of Joe Manchin running for West Virginia governor again is real,” citing sources close to Manchin who have confirmed the senator is “being encouraged to enter the race.”

And West Virginia MetroNews reported last week and again Tuesday that Manchin is getting strong encouragement to jump into the governor’s race against Morrisey, whom he beat in his 2018 Senate reelection race, and Manchin isn’t knocking down the possibility of a last-minute statewide bid.

To run for governor, Manchin would have to register as an independent or persuade Steve Williams, who won the Democratic nomination for governor in an uncontested race, to step aside.

Manchin last week did not rule out a bid for governor but described Williams as a “friend” and a “good person.”

The West Virginia Democrat needs to decide whether to run as an independent for governor — or to keep his current Senate seat — by the weekend, at least 60 days before the Aug. 1 deadline for filing for an independent campaign, according to secretary of state’s office.

Glenn Elliott is the Democratic nominee for Senate in West Virginia.

Williams and Elliott are both long shots to win in a deep red state that Trump carried by huge margins in 2016 and 2020. Manchin, however, first ran for statewide office nearly 30 years ago, and his name identification is as high as any public officials in the Mountain State.

Manchin deciding to run for the governor’s job, which he held from 2005-10, would be a surprising development, but the West Virginia senator relishes the national spotlight and often speaks fondly of his days in the governor’s mansion.

He is 76 years old, and when he announced his retirement from the U.S. Senate in November, he said he had “accomplished what I set out to do for West Virginia.”

He also called the decision not to run for the Senate “one of the toughest decisions of my life” and flirted with a third-party bid for president. He later decided against it after a groundswell to put him in the White House failed to materialize.

Manchin was one of the most popular politicians in the country when he left his job as governor to run for Senate in 2010, boasting a 75 percent approval rating in West Virginia.

And Manchin has often chafed over the partisanship and lack of action in the Senate for much of his career in Washington — except for 2021 and 2022, when he dictated much of the action in Congress as the pivotal 50th Democratic vote in the Senate for President Biden’s agenda.

Sensing weakness in Morrisey, Manchin is wavering on his decision to leave the national political stage for good.

Manchin’s office declined to comment on him jumping into the governor’s race but noted he told reporters he was aware of what he called “rumors.”

Mike Plante, a Democratic consultant based in West Virginia, put the chances of Manchin running for governor at “zero.”

“Steve Williams would have to step aside and then the executive committee of the party would have to appoint someone to fill the slot. I know Steve Williams has no intention of stepping aside,” he said.

Plante said an independent gubernatorial bid with a viable Democratic candidate like Williams in the race in a Republican-leaning state would be a very tough path to the governor’s mansion.

Back in Washington, fellow Democratic senators wonder if Manchin was too hasty in announcing his retirement given the physical condition of Senate GOP candidate and current West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, who appears less spry and less physically mobile than Manchin.

Some Senate Democrats say Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) was frustrated by Manchin’s decision in November to retire from the Senate at the end of 2024.

“Schumer didn’t want him to retire, and I think Joe may have made that decision prematurely,” said a Democratic senator, who requested anonymity to discuss Manchin reconsidering his decision to step away from politics.

Justice is the overwhelming favorite to beat the Democratic Senate nominee, Elliott — so much so that Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) is already counting West Virginia as a Republican pickup.

Some Senate Democratic and Republican strategists wonder how Justice, who appears to get tired moving around, will handle the physical rigors of shuttling between the Capitol and the Senate office buildings.

Senators with physical disabilities — such as Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a former Army Black Hawk helicopter pilot who lost both her legs in Iraq, can get around the Capitol in a wheelchair and using the elevators — but it isn’t easy maneuvering through corridors built more than a hundred years before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The talk of Manchin running for governor comes amid lingering bruised feelings after what was described as one of the nastiest and hard-fought Republican gubernatorial primaries in recent memory.

The intraparty attacks got so bad that Justice, when he announced his endorsement of Moore Capito, said he was saddened by what he called the “ridiculous mudslinging.”

Morrisey narrowly beat Capito, earning 33 percent of the vote to his 28 percent.

Updated at 8:14 a.m. EDT

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