May 9, 2023
Republicans’ best option for unseating Senator Joe Manchin: Pray that he retires first. The longtime West Virginia Democrat might be the most endangered member of his party heading into 2024—but Republicans still see the contest against him as treacherous. Manchin is a West Virginia institution who has repeatedly defied the odds in a deep-red state, reports Politico.
A GOP group tied to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell launched a $2 million ad campaign bashing Manchin a year and a half before the election.
National Republican leaders, who have no interest in leaving any room for error in their efforts to retake the Senate, have recruited popular West Virginia Governor Jim Justice to run for Manchin’s seat.
And Justice, who has shared a political network with the senator, has said it’s unlikely Manchin will run for reelection now that he’s in the race. National GOP leaders hope so—or are privately wishing his flirtations with a centrist presidential run turn into a full-fledged campaign.
There’s no sugar-coating the dire position in which Manchin finds himself. After Democrats dominated West Virginia for decades, the state has gone full-blown MAGA in recent years. Former President Donald Trump won it by nearly 40 percentage points in 2020, and there are only 14 Democrats left in West Virginia’s 134-member state legislature. Manchin’s approval rating has plummeted, with 55% of voters giving him a thumbs down, according to a recent Morning Consult poll.
But interviews with 18 elected officials, strategists, and political observers in West Virginia and Washington, D.C., reveal that Manchin isn’t quite being left for dead yet. Even Justice’s former pollster said it would be unwise to count Manchin out.
“There is a reason that Joe Manchin is basically the last standing Democrat in a state that has had a red tsunami since 2014,” said Mark Blankenship, a West Virginia-based GOP pollster who worked for Justice’s 2020 gubernatorial campaign. “You can’t say that it’s impossible for him to win because he’s won so much.”
Manchin’s GOP colleagues agreed with the sentiment: “You can’t take Joe for granted. He’s a formidable politician,” said Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), who appeared as a featured speaker at Justice’s campaign kickoff last month.
The early investment from McConnell’s allies at the group One Nation could save Republicans money next year — if it nudges Manchin toward the exit. Otherwise, the GOP will have to spend millions convincing West Virginia voters to part ways with a man who has not lost an election since the 1990s. Without Manchin on the ballot, many operatives see the state as an automatic flip, and Republicans can redirect their money toward other crucial battleground states.
“It would be nice if we didn’t have to,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-South Dakota) when asked if his party would need to spend money if Manchin retires. “We’ll see how it all plays out.”
Research contact: @politico