Joe Manchin has always been politically stealthy. He has practiced to near perfection the ability to balance in the middle as the political world increasingly pulls participants to one side or the other.
During his years in state politics, Manchin billed himself as a pro-business Democrat. His desire for a deal or a compromise frequently trumped party allegiance. He has tried to continue that middle way in Washington.
Manchin’s migration toward the nexus may help explain his well-publicized struggle over whether to run for Governor in 2020. He debated both sides of the decision with friends, family and advisors over… and over.
He loved his time as Governor, from 2005 to 2010, and believes the state improved during his tenure. As I have often said, Manchin ran West Virginia like the strong mayor of a medium-sized city.
By comparison, the pace in the U.S. Senate is glacial. Crafting and getting legislation passed can take years, if it happens at all. He and Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey have been working on a modest gun control bill for six years!
But it is the Senate—possibly the most powerful deliberative body in the world. That must count for something, even if they can’t seem to get much done. Manchin is now the ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. If the Democrats take back the Senate in 2020, he could be in charge.
Ultimately, I think Manchin abandoned the idea of running for Governor because it would have meant another long, grueling and expensive campaign. The 2018 Senate race against Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey was brutal, and he squeaked by with a three-point victory.
Manchin was understandably reluctant to so quickly launch into another prolonged period of campaigning, fundraising, attacks and counterattacks. Additionally, if Manchin was planning to stay in the Senate, there would have been no down time between now and November 2020.
If Manchin ran for Governor and won, he was counting on serving two terms. If successful, he would have been 81 years old by the time he left office. Manchin is a bundle of energy, but even he had to question whether he would be as motivated in his late 70’s and early 80’s as he is now.
Manchin’s flirtation with the Governor’s race was real, and it made for intriguing political theatre. The landscape of the race was going to change significantly if Manchin had gotten in, but now there is decision—finally—and the recalibration for 2020 can begin.