Some politicians come and go, consigned to fade into the electorate as a vague memory of past representation. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is not that type of politician. In his native West Virginia, Manchin is an institution — someone who has spent decades working his way through the state's various elected positions ending with the U.S. Senate office he's held since 2010. To the extent that a politician can be synonymous with an entire state, Joe Manchin is it.
On Thursday, Manchin ended months of speculation about his political future, announcing on X, formerly Twitter, that he will not run for reelection in 2024, having "accomplished what I set out to do for West Virginia." Instead, Manchin explained, he would be "traveling the country and speaking out, to see if there is an interest in creating a movement to mobilize the middle, and bring Americans together."
To the West Virginians who have put their trust in me and fought side by side to make our state better – it has been an honor of my life to serve you. Thank you. My statement on my political future: pic.twitter.com/dz8JuXAyTLNovember 9, 2023
Manchin's decision, while surprising, was not fully unexpected; a recent Emerson College poll placed him 13 points behind current West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R), who last spring announced plans to run for Manchin's (now-open) seat. And in an interview with Metro News this summer, Manchin admitted that he'd "very seriously" consider abandoning the Democrats entirely, highlighting the degree to which he had become a frequent foil to his own political party.
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Beyond opening a new front for Democrats to defend in their hopes of retaining their Senate majority, Manchin's announcement has raised the prospect that he may mount a long-rumored bid for the White House itself, playing potential spoiler in an already fraught election season likely to be between a deeply unpopular incumbent and his similarly unpopular predecessor.
What the commentators said
Manchin's immediate plan "remains a mystery," with even his closest aides and allies claiming "they don’t know" what he'll do next, The New York Times reported. While some close to the senator have expressed skepticism at his ability to raise the "hundreds of millions of dollars to run a credible independent or third-party campaign," fellow West Virginia Democrat and former Rep. Nick Rahall told the paper that Manchin "truly sees a huge slice of the American electorate, both Republican and Democratic, fed up with both of their parties’ nominees."
Manchin's announcement gave a "new jolt to a volatile national political landscape," according to The Hill, with Democrats and Republicans alike "grappling with the ramifications" for both the White House and Senate. Should he make a run for the presidency, it would "complicate an already messy political picture" whose effects are "harder to compute." At the same time, "virtually no one believes the Democrats can find a candidate capable" of retaining his Senate seat. Republicans "like our odds in West Virginia," Montana Sen. Steve Daines, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman, told ABC News in a statement. The state is "crucial to the GOP efforts to reclaim the Senate from Democratic control," according to the National Review.
However, pointing to the Democrats' strong showing in this week's off-year elections, party strategist Richard Fowler warned Fox News that Republicans shouldn't "spike the football too soon" over the potential Senate pickup if they "don't talk to voters." As Daily Kos elections contributing editor David Beard noted on X as well, Manchin's retirement ahead of a likely loss to Justice "allows Dems to redirect the money they were going to spend to other races," as well.
For now, most eyes are on No Labels, a centrist group working to place third-party candidates on the ballot with whom Manchin has flirted in the past. The group has also, per the Times, been "accused of ineffectuality, fronting for Republicans and existing mainly to raise large amounts of money from wealthy corporate donors, many of whom give primarily to Republicans." The group is expected to select a candidate to back at its nominating convention in April.
Already a "Draft Romney Manchin Committee" committee has been filed with the Federal Election Commission, with a person involved in the effort telling The Associated Press that the goal is "to enable Manchin and Romney to seek the presidential nomination" at No Labels' convention this spring. While Manchin hasn't commented on the committee, retiring Republican Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah) has "distanced himself from it."
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