West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin has decided not to run for governor in 2020, which is welcome news for Senate Democrats who would have had a hard time defending a Senate seat in the Mountain State without him.
Manchin, who narrowly won reelection last fall, said remaining in the Senate puts him in a better position to help West Virginia.
Had Manchin defeated GOP Gov. Jim Justice next year, he could have appointed his own successor, who would have been on the ballot during the next midterm election. But Democrats would have faced an uphill battle holding onto a Senate seat in a state President Donald Trump carried by 42 points in 2016. Manchin, a former two-term governor, took advantage of his own personal brand in the state and a flawed opponent to hold onto his seat last fall, despite the unpopularity of the national Democratic Party.
Manchin was torn until the last minute about running for his old job again. He called serving as governor the “greatest honor” of his life.
“Those who know me know how much I loved being the Governor of West Virginia. I worked the daylights out of that job. I couldn’t wait to wake up in the Governor’s Mansion in the morning,” Manchin said in a statement.
“Ultimately, I believe my role as U.S. Senator allows me to position our state for success for the rest of this century. As the top Democrat and Ranking Member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I am going to push the Senate to take up and pass energy technology bills that invest in all-of-the-above energy that will keep our country as the world economic leader,” he said.
Justice won the gubernatorial election as a Democrat in 2016 with Manchin’s support, but he switched parties in 2017 and later fired Manchin’s wife as state secretary of arts and education. Despite initially saying he’d support Manchin, Justice backed state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey in the Senate race against Manchin. The senator has since criticized the way the governor is running the state.
A MetroNews Dominion Post West Virginia Poll released Aug. 30 gave Manchin a 49 to 39 percent edge over Justice. Twelve percent of voters were undecided. Research America Inc. surveyed 501 registered voters between Aug. 14 and 22, and the poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
Stephen Smith, the former director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, is already running for the Democratic nomination for governor. Justice is facing primary challenges from former state Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher and former state Del. Mike Folk.
Manchin defeated Morrisey last fall by 3 points. He played up his willingness to work with the president and buck his own party. He was the only Democrat in the Senate to vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, and he ran ads touting his support for a border wall. So far this year, he’s angered some fellow Democrats by endorsing Maine Sen. Susan Collins, whose seat is a must-win for Democrats looking to take the majority in 2020.