Governor Jim Justice will need some help to win a second term, and he’s going to get it from one of the most popular political figures in West Virginia. That person just happens to be President Donald Trump.
Trump’s approval rating in the state continues to hover around 60 percent*, while his disapproval rating is only 36 percent. Those numbers are holding steady after Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 42 points here in the 2016 election.
Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports that two of Trump’s top political consultants—Bill Stepien and Justin Clark—are helping Justice with his re-election effort. Stepien and Clark are two of Trump’s most loyal political aides,” Politico reported.
“Both worked on his 2016 bid before going on to serve in the White House. They recently joined the President’s 2020 campaign, where they are overseeing an aggressive effort to ensure that anti-Trump activists don’t overtake next summer’s convention,” said Politico.
The helping hand for Justice from Trump is not that surprising. Isenstadt writes that, “Justice has long been a top priority for the administration.
The two have developed a friendship as well as a working relationship. Trump was instrumental in convincing Justice to switch from the Democratic to Republican Party in 2017. Justice has been to the White House several times and Trump came to the Greenbrier last year to speak at a dinner honoring the military during the PGA Tour event.
The entry of the Trump team in Justice’s race benefits the Governor in several ways.
First, it gives Justice high-powered help in developing and executing a professional campaign. However, it will be interesting to see how the relationship plays out, since Justice rejects the notion that he is a politician and thus can be reluctant to follow advice.
Second, adding Stepien and Clark sends a message to current and would-be Republican challengers that Trump is backing Justice. Typically the President would stay out of a Primary, although Trump does not always abide by political norms either. However, in this case, it’s already evident that Justice can count on the President during the nominating process.
Third, Trump is a political force in West Virginia who can lend his coattails to Justice. Trump’s presence, both campaigning in the state and at the top of the ticket, will help Justice and other down ballot Republicans.
As Isenstadt wrote, “The White House is determined to save the Governor from the fate of other party-switchers like the late Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, who lost a primary after switching to the Democratic Party during Barack Obama’s first term.
When Justice announced his party switch at a Trump rally in Huntington, he got a hug from the President and a big cheer from the crowd. But after the celebration there is the cold reality of the election. Justice faces hostile Democrats and wary Republicans.
Rick Dearborn, a former Trump White House deputy chief of staff who has worked with Stepien and Clark, told Politico, “If you convince a guy to switch parties and he joins your party, you have kind of a responsibility to make sure to try to take care of him in his re-election.”
Given the headwinds that Justice now faces in his re-election effort, that help from the White House is welcome news for him.
*(Morning Consult tracking poll)