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For months, political observers and strategists have been keeping their eyes and ears wide open, hoping to find out two big things about the 2024 Senate race in West Virginia.
The first and biggest question they have: Will Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin run for reelection?
The second most important question: Is Republican Gov. Jim Justice, a supposed political ally of Manchin’s, going to throw his hat into the ring in a potential challenge to Manchin should he go for another term?
Both Manchin and Justice have been extremely cagey about the issue, with Justice recently indicating he’d have an answer to the question after March 11, which is the end of the latest West Virginia legislative session.
And during an interview with Fox News “Sunday Morning Futures” host Maria Bartiromo, not only did Manchin not rule out a possible run for president in 2024 but he remained evasive on whether he’d run for reelection to the Senate. Especially noteworthy was when Manchin would not say whether or not he still “identified” as a Democrat:
Joe Manchin on whether he still identifies as a Democrat: “I identify as an American.” pic.twitter.com/QsaAuuLeud
— The Post Millennial (@TPostMillennial) February 27, 2023
Considering that West Virginia has trended redder and redder in recent election cycles (Donald Trump won the state handily in 2016 and again in 2020), Manchin has good reason to run away from the “Democrat” label – especially as Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) periodically dangles the “party switch” carrot in front of Manchin.
But though it’s pretty obvious that both Manchin and Justice are “feeling each other out” in an effort to see who blinks first, Manchin appears to be the one fretting the most over how a match-up between him and Justice would play out because as it turns out, Manchin is fearful of going out a “loser” whose bag of tricks has finally run out:
Like Biden, Manchin believes he’s the best person to beat this Trump-y character [Justice], and he’s probably right. But he also knows there’s a good chance he could lose: a poll for Mitch McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund shows Manchin trailing Justice by 10 points in a head-to-head. If Trump wins the G.O.P. nomination, he’ll likely bolster Justice, too. Trump won West Virginia by 39 points in 2020 and he’ll almost certainly confer support down the ballot. “He doesn’t want to go out a loser,” said a source close to Manchin. “He’s paying very close attention to what Justice does.”
A senior Senate source said that Manchin has changed his mind multiple times about whether or not he will run. “He’s more wishy-washy than a car wash,” the source said. “For all of the problems he’s caused, he’s a political anomaly and a real asset to Democrats.”
In other words, despite Manchin continuously telling the media that he wants to do “what’s best for West Virginians” (with that “best” thing in his view being for Manchin to stay in office for the foreseeable future) in the end, what Joe Manchin is most worried about is, well, Joe Manchin’s ego and legacy, and after the chickens came home to roost for Manchin over the bogusly-named “Inflation Reduction Act,” Manchin might just be on the verge of bowing out gracefully to avoid voters showing him at the ballot box exactly how they feel over his betrayal.
As I’ve said before, the stage is being set for a mighty fall for Joe Manchin regardless of who his GOP opponent may be (assuming he runs again). And if all of this bears out in 2024 – or if he decides to retire at the end of this term, he will have no one to blame for his political downfall but himself.
Related: Democrats Hardest Hit as Joe Biden’s 2024 Campaign Strategy Emerges
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