Last January, I wrote that U.S. Senator Joe Manchin was once again considering running for Governor of West Virginia. The column, subsequent reporting and interviews given by the Democrat fueled speculation that Manchin was willing to give up a plum Senate seat if he could successfully return to the Governor’s mansion.
It’s been almost four months since that story hit and Manchin still has not made up his mind. However, it is evident that his very public interest in the 2020 Governor’s race is neither a passing fancy nor just a way to needle Jim Justice, a former political ally.
Manchin told me on Talkline Tuesday he has three concerns about a possible gubernatorial run:
—The Legislature. When Manchin was Governor (2005-2010), he had Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. Both chambers have flipped to Republican and the politics at the State Capitol have become more polarized. “How much change do they (legislators) want to make? Is it as tribal here as it is in Washington? I’ve got to evaluate that,” he said.
—Could he help the state more as a Governor than as a Senator? “West Virginia is a good state and we’re much better than we are showing,” Manchin said.
—His family. Manchin said the 2018 Senate reelection campaign was grueling. Whether to launch into another campaign this quickly will be a determination he has to make in consultation with his family. He added that he “should be able to make a decision” by this fall.
Earlier this year Manchin willingly joined in the criticism of Justice for living in Greenbrier County and not dedicating all his energies to the job. “The State of West Virginia deserves and needs a full-time Governor,” he said at the time.
However, when given an opportunity Tuesday to double down on Justice, Manchin was noticeably uncritical. “Maybe Jim is doing what he thinks he needs to do,” Manchin said. “I haven’t talked to him in quite a while.”
That’s a purposeful strategy shift by Manchin, who now wants to take more of a high road, at least in this stage of the political sparring when Justice has been taking shots at him.
The glacial pace of federal legislation and the hyper-partisanship of Washington drive Manchin crazy. It is counter to his nature as a fixer and a deal maker, characteristics that served him well when he was the state’s chief executive.
“I miss the day-to-day action that I was able to be involved with,” he said. “You could call me and say, ‘Hey Joe, would you check this out?’ By this evening I would have you an answer.”
However, as is often the case with Manchin, just when you think you have him nailed down—yes, he’s going to run for Governor—he shifts. The Senator is now the ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
That’s a prime position for a Senator from an energy state. “I’m able to drive policy,” he said.
So, bottom line—is he running for Governor? “I’m thinking seriously and solidly about it,” Manchin said. “I think we can do better.”