Gov. Jim Justice (R-WV) appears ready to launch a bid for Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) seat, setting up what could be Democrats’ toughest contest in the 2024 cycle.
A half-dozen GOP senators and aides told Politico that Justice, a Democrat-turned-Republican, is increasingly expected to get in the Senate race after consulting with top party officials in Washington this month. Republicans would be shocked if Justice decided against a run, lawmakers said, adding that the only thing in flux was the timing of an announcement.
“The governor has a good political sense. So I am assuming that he’s going to get in,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) said. “It would change things. He has a huge approval rating, he just passed the biggest tax cut in state history. He’s got a lot of good things to talk about.”
Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), who leads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the party’s Senate campaign arm, has been walking a political tightrope — supporting candidates with general election appeal while trying to avoid alienating loyal supporters of former President Donald Trump. The approach marks a shift in strategy from Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), Daines’s predecessor as NRSC chief, who faced criticism for Republicans’ lackluster showing in the 2022 midterm elections.
Daines and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have spent months trying to persuade Justice to run next year, as Justice is the only Republican in the ruby-red state who polls competitively against Manchin, a longtime friend-turned-political foe. Manchin, a former governor himself, had endorsed Justice in his crowded 2016 gubernatorial primary race when the latter announced his party switch.
“Obviously, as a governor, he’s starting out in a strong position, but it’s just too early right now,” Daines told the Washington Examiner of Justice in December while declining to disclose if his committee was actively encouraging him to run.
Justice said he’s leaning toward running, and all signs have indicated as much, including putting his coal business up for sale, meeting with Daines, and texting with McConnell.
Manchin has maintained that he won’t make any decisions until the end of this year. Justice’s candidacy is believed to be a major concern for Manchin, who wants to avoid engaging in what could become a vitriolic election battle.
Asked about Justice’s Senate aspirations in an interview last month, Manchin said the governor “seems like he had a great desire [to run]. I’ve known Jim for a long, long time. And I think he’d be the overwhelming favorite to win the Republican primary if he gets in. … I respect whatever he does, and if we end up running against each other, it’ll be a good, strong, competitive race.”
Manchin said Justice’s plans were not affecting his own, saying, “God bless them, it’ll be entertaining to watch their primary. That’s the greatest thing.”