In the 1972 movie The Candidate, Bill McKay (played by Robert Redford) runs for and wins a U.S. Senate race in California. At the end of the film, moments after the announcement that he has won, a stunned McKay asks his campaign manager, “What do we do now?”
There is a distinct difference between running for office and governing. Sometimes a politician is better at one than the other.
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice is leaning toward running for the U.S. Senate when his second term ends in 2024. The seat is now held by Democrat Joe Manchin, who has not yet said whether he is running again.
Justice said last week the Senate run is on his mind. “Absolutely, without question, I’m really thinking very hard about it. I’m very seriously considering running for the Senate. I have not made a final decision yet.” He added that he would continue to be devoted to the Governor’s responsibilities over the remaining two years of his term.
A lot can and will change before 2024, but as of today it is clear that Justice could win. He has won the Governor’s race twice—once as a Democrat and the second time as a Republican. The most recent Morning Consult Poll last month rated Justice as the sixth most popular Governor in the country with an approval rating of 65 percent.
His folksy, never-met-a-stranger demeanor and unfailing optimism about West Virginia clearly resonates with voters. Those are valuable assets on the campaign trail, which he demonstrated while leading the opposition to Amendment Two in the General Election.
But for all of his adult life Justice has been the boss, first in private business and then as the Governor. He is used to telling people what to do and expecting rapid results. Justice would rather use the force of his personality to reach an end on his own than spend time building consensus among his fellow politicians.
That is not how the United States Senate operates. It is purposely a deliberative body. If things move slowly in the upper chamber, it is because they are supposed to. This is how the Senate describes itself on its website: “As a deliberative institution and a body of equals—among individual members and among states—the Senate has frustrated Presidents, members of the House of Representatives, and even Senate leaders, who seek speedy enactment of legislation.”
Joe Manchin left the Governor’s office for the U.S. Senate. Like Justice, Manchin is notoriously impatient, and that served him well in Charleston. The Governor of this state has incredible power to run things, which fit the personalities of Manchin and Justice.
The U.S. Senate’s slow pace was a source of constant frustration for Manchin early on. Only when he became “the 50th vote,” which afforded him enormous power and influence to affect policy, did Manchin become more comfortable with Washington (even though he still hates the toxic tribalism).
The glacial pace, as well as being just one of a hundred, instead of the one as Governor, is stunting to those used to being in charge. In West Virginia, when the Governor speaks, the media pay attention. In Washington, when a Senator who is in no position of power speaks, crickets chirp.
None of this is to say Jim Justice would not be a good Senator for West Virginia, and that will be for the voters to decide if he runs. But as candidate Bill McKay found out, just because you can run and win does not necessarily mean you are suited for the job.