WASHINGTON — Democrat Joe Manchin insists he’ll win if he runs for reelection. That “if” is one of the biggest uncertainties in U.S. politics, one that could determine Senate control and the role of centrists in an increasingly polarized country.
The 75-year-old Democrat, whose political career in Republican-trending West Virginia spans 40 years, has repeatedly won over voters in a state Donald Trump carried by 39 points in 2020. Before a possible run, Manchin has been bucking President Joe Biden, particularly on fossil fuel production, which is key in his coal-producing state.
Since Friday, he’s announced opposition to three Biden nominees, including Daniel Werfel to lead the Internal Revenue Service. Manchin on Wednesday signaled he’s using Werfel’s nomination as a stick to beat back the Treasury Department’s implementation of an electric vehicle tax credit he helped write.
Manchin’s punches haven’t stopped with nominees. He also ripped the Interior Department on Wednesday for delaying a plan for offshore oil and gas leases, saying they’re “putting their radical climate agenda ahead of our nation’s energy security.”
While other Democratic incumbents in Trump-friendly states — Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Jon Tester of Montana — have announced reelection campaigns, Manchin is in no hurry. He had $9.5 million in his campaign account at the end of 2022 but says he won’t make any announcements until the end of the year, and laments a perennial focus on politics.
“We have a lot of opportunities in West Virginia and the country has a lot of challenges,” Manchin said when asked about his plans, adding that he’s focused on uniting a divided nation. “We’ll just have to see what the lay of the land is.”
Democrats, who have a 51-49 majority, will likely have to win at least five of the six most competitive seats next year to retain Senate control, with no Republican facing reelection in a state won by Biden. If Democrats lose the West Virginia seat, they would have to keep the White House and run the table with other Democratic seats or win an upset to hold the majority.
Manchin was elected governor twice and has already won reelection to the Senate since Trump emerged as a political force. Should he run, he could face Jim Justice, the popular governor who won reelection in 2020 by 33 points and has said he’s leaning toward running.
By waiting, Manchin holds leverage as Democrats court him as their best chance in the Mountain State.
He has recently amped up his criticism of the administration, faulting Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen for the implementation of the EV tax credit rewrite; Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s early handling of the East Palestine, Ohio, rail disaster; and Biden for resisting a budget deal to end deficits and shore up entitlement programs.
Last Friday, Manchin, who chairs the Energy Committee and wants a bipartisan deal to accelerate the permit process for energy projects, said he’d withhold support for a key Interior Department nominee. On Tuesday, he announced that he’d oppose Gigi Sohn’s nomination to the Federal Communications Commission, prompting her to immediately withdraw her name. On Wednesday, he took aim at Werfel.
The White House’s response on Wednesday was a careful one, underscoring just how crucial Manchin is to their ambitions over the next two years and to the 2024 election map.
“The president has a longstanding relationship with Senator Manchin that goes back years, certainly over a decade, and we respect our relationship with him,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “We have been able to deliver for the American people historic, really consequential pieces of legislation.”
Manchin, in recent interviews at the U.S. Capitol, has called both parties “crazy” and lamented the shrinking middle in American politics. He hasn’t even fully ruled out a presidential campaign, calling talk of such a run “very flattering” and “very humbling.”
Back home, he touts grants for infrastructure and energy projects and attends ribbon cuttings for corporate groundbreakings made possible by laws he engineered, including at a Form Energy Inc. battery plant last month. Those are the kinds of projects that can help a senator get reelected, especially in a state like West Virginia, which has long badly lagged national averages on income.
While Manchin has often frustrated his fellow Democrats, particularly when he torpedoed Biden’s multitrillion-dollar Build Back Better bill — during a 2021 Fox News appearance — he proved central to bipartisan deals, including on infrastructure.
He was the key editor of the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act, which includes provisions on climate and energy production, Medicare prescription price cuts, increased tax enforcement and a new 15% minimum tax on corporations making at least $1 billion a year.
While Republicans attacked him for supporting two large Democratic-only budget packages, they praised him for maintaining the filibuster rule along with newly independent Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Their decision allowed Republicans to block assorted Democratic social initiatives and a voting rights overhaul.
If Manchin runs, he’ll also have some rare bipartisan support. Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, has endorsed him and told Bloomberg she plans to send him a campaign check, and Utah Republican Mitt Romney said he’d consider supporting him. Manchin endorsed Murkowski’s successful 2022 campaign.
Manchin and Justice have long been friends and used to be political allies.
Justice, one of the wealthiest people in the state, switched parties to become a Republican after his 2016 election, when he had Manchin’s backing in a crowded Democratic primary.
On Tuesday, he signed a major tax cut into law and has also signed legislation to allow concealed carrying of guns on college campuses. The state has received big federal cash infusions from emergency relief bills Manchin backed and has a 4.1% unemployment rate.
Alex Mooney, one of the state’s two representatives, both Republicans, has already announced he’s running on a Trump-friendly platform. He has accused Justice of being insufficiently conservative.
He used a similar playbook to defeat Representative David McKinley in a Republican primary last year. Mooney, who was endorsed by Trump, attacked McKinley, who had Manchin’s and Justice’s backing, for supporting Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law.
Republican leaders have put Manchin atop their own target list.
In an appearance on Fox News in February, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell touted Justice’s lead over Manchin in a poll commissioned by the Senate Leadership Fund, a Republican campaign arm allied with McConnell. That poll had Manchin leading Mooney and another potential Republican candidate, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who Manchin narrowly defeated in 2018.
“Joe Manchin has a decision to make,” said Tate Mitchell, a National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman. Referring to Manchin and the Senate majority leader, he added. “He can retire and go out on top, or spend the next two years as Chuck Schumer’s sacrificial lamb.”
—With assistance from Jenny Leonard.
©2023 Bloomberg L.P. Visit bloomberg.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.