Manchin decision shifts governor’s race

Well, now that that’s out of the way, let the governor’s race begin.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin has decided to stay in the Senate and NOT run for governor in 2016. He announced his decision on “Face the Nation” Sunday morning, and later confirmed his decision and expanded on his reasoning in an interview with Metronews.

Manchin admitted “going to Washington has been difficult… challenging.” The strident political atmosphere and painfully slow pace were antithetical to the hyper-paced, deal-craving Manchin.  However, the political landscape is about to change in Washington.

The Obama presidency is about to end and Harry Reid is retiring. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer is Reid’s likely successor. Manchin says he and Schumer may come from different worlds (Brooklyn and Farmington), but they get along.

“He will work with you and let you bring your ideas,” Manchin said. “We’ve had a great relationship.”

Meanwhile, Manchin’s influence in the Senate actually increased when the GOP took control in the last election. He is one of six to nine moderate-to-conservative Democrats who can help the Republicans get the necessary 60 votes to break a filibuster.

So why would Manchin release a poll last week showing he has a 60-30 lead over Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey in a possible 2016 governor’s race if he had decided NOT to run?

I suspect that’s Manchin’s way of saying he’s not shying away from the Governor’s race because he’s afraid he might lose. And Manchin’s own poll numbers were backed up by a Republican poll showing him with substantial leads over any of the probable Gubernatorial candidates.

None of the other candidates will say it on the record, but they have to be relieved that Manchin is out. It certainly clears the path for state Senator Jeff Kessler, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and any other Democrat who is interested in seeking the Democratic nomination.

The state Democratic Party was quick to pump up the rest of the field following Manchin’s announcement. “For the people of West Virginia, rest assured that we will have a strong nominee for Governor in 2016,” tweeted party chair Belinda Biafore.

On the Republican side, Morrisey, 1st District Congressman David McKinley and state Senator Bill Cole are seriously considering running.The Harper poll released last week showed mock matchups of every combination of those candidates as being close, with lots of voters who are “not sure.”

That’s not surprising considering there isn’t a campaign yet, and none of the possible candidates has very high name recognition.

Manchin’s flirtation with the governor’s race was real. It even appeared likely just a few months ago that he would indeed try to return to his political comfort zone as a state chief executive. His reversal, however, is also authentic as he continues to carve out a more significant position in Washington’s political turbulence.

Back in West Virginia, those with an eye on the 2016 Governor’s race had been kept somewhat off balance by Manchin. That settled, the race can begin in earnest, and it’s wide open.

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