U.S. Senator Joe Manchin is one of the most successful West Virginia politicians of his generation. The Democrat has been elected Secretary of State, Governor and U.S. Senator. Manchin has managed to achieve and maintain the highest offices even as the state has turned a deep shade of red.
However, Manchin is up for re-election next year and Republicans are already strategizing on ways to take out the state’s leading Democrat.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee has Manchin in their crosshairs. He’s not at the top of their list of targeted races, but he’s near there. The NRSC views 2018 as a target rich environment because ten Democrats are up in states that voted for Trump, including West Virginia.
Trump won an overwhelming 68 percent of the vote here, compared with just 26 percent for Hillary Clinton. Manchin supported Clinton and even brought her to the state for a campaign swing, but he quickly warmed to Trump after the election.
Manchin interviewed for a position with the Trump administration and has voted for the president’s cabinet appointments. Manchin said on Talkline Tuesday that unless something unforeseen develops, he expects to support Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. (However, Manchin does oppose Trump’s executive order on immigration.)
NRSC deputy communications director Bob Salera says they will be watching Manchin’s voting record closely over the next two years. “Try as he might to distance himself from the rhetoric of Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer, they can always count on Joe when they need his vote,” Salera said.
West Virginia 3rd District Republican Congressman Evan Jenkins is eyeing the race. After a weekend report on CNN that Jenkins plans to challenge Manchin, Jenkins campaign spokesman Patrick Howell issued this statement to MetroNews: “After receiving tremendous encouragement from folks across West Virginia, Congressman Jenkins is strongly considering running for the U.S. Senate, but no final decision or formal announcement has been made.”
Jenkins is not alone. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is also interested. He just won re-election to a four-year term last November so he could run in 2018 and not give up his seat.
We might want to throw in West Virginia’s other two Republican Congressmen for good measure—David McKinley from the 1st and Alex Mooney from the 2rd. The state is going to lose one of its three congressional districts after the 2020 census, which may make a 2018 Senate run look more inviting.
Republican campaign strategists know Manchin is no pushover, despite the state’s shifting political winds. He is a relentless campaigner who has so far managed to thread the needle of being a Democrat in Washington while representing a state that is increasingly out of step with the national Democratic Party.