Congressman Alex Mooney says he’s got a better chance than people might believe at first in a U.S. Senate primary race against Gov. Jim Justice.
“He’s a RINO. I’m the only conservative in this race,” Mooney said today, referring to a “Republican in Name Only.”
Meanwhile, Mooney says he hopes to get an endorsement from former President Donald Trump, one of Justice’s longtime friends — or at least that Trump, who remains very popular in West Virginia, will stay out of the race.
Mooney, a Republican from Charles Town, announced his candidacy for Senate last November. Justice, a two-term governor, is expected to announce his candidacy later this week.
The winner could take on incumbent Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, in a high-profile general election over a near evenly-divided Senate.
A poll by the firm National Public Affairs, which has leaders associated with Trump, showed Justice with 55 percent and Mooney with 24 percent, plus 21 percent undecided.
Mooney pointed toward his lopsided victory against fellow congressional incumbent David McKinley, also a Republican, in a combined district of northern West Virginia counties last spring.
Of Justice, Mooney said, “I think what you’re looking at there is name I.D. He has a higher name I.D. But once my name recognition gets up, especially down south and in my new district I think that those will even out. And once we contrast his liberal views on the issues versus mine, I think I’ll win,” Mooney said on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
“Look, I’m going to give the voters a choice here. You want a proven conservative, I’m your guy. I have a voting record you can look at. You want someone who’s more of a liberal Republican, there’s Jim Justice.”
In calling Justice a liberal, Mooney cited the governor’s support of a federal infrastructure bill meant to support roads, bridges and internet projects. Mooney has been calling that federal bill a “non-infrastructure bill.”
Mooney also criticized the governor’s opposition to a state constitutional amendment that would have allowed legislators to cut personal property taxes. Justice said that would have undercut local government budgets, and he favored income tax cuts instead.
“I do think I can contrast his views,” Mooney said. “I’m a proven conservative. I’ll debate the issues all day long with Mr. Justice or anybody else who wants to run — or Joe Manchin.”
Mooney touted an endorsement last week from Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas. And his campaign has been pointing toward endorsements by West Virginia elected lawmakers.
Mooney said he hopes to receive backing from Donald Trump, who endorsed his most recent congressional bid. If not, Mooney hopes Trump will just stay neutral in the Senate race against Justice.
“I’m staying in touch with Trump. I mean, I believe my running for U.S. Senate is continuation of his investment in me and his endorsement in my primary last time, and I’ve told him as much. Hey look, this was the plan, I mean now we’ve got to go against Joe Manchin, who voted to impeach Trump twice.
“So I’m hoping he’ll still endorse me. I’m asking for that. Maybe he’ll stay neutral if he doesn’t want to get involved in a primary between me and Jim Justice. If so, so be it. I understand.”
Mooney noted his campaign’s state-level endorsements so far include 23 state Delegates, 5 state Senators and Treasurer Riley Moore.
“That should say something — that the people who’ve worked the closest with Jim Justice are endorsing me,” Mooney said.
Responding to that last week, Justice said he isn’t particularly worried. He pointed toward Mooney’s background as a Maryland state senator and chairman of the Republican Party in Maryland.
“I’m glad that some of our legislators know that Alex Mooney is somewhere remotely connected to West Virginia,” Justice said. “I mean, who in the world in the State of West Virginia knows that Alex Mooney is a West Virginian. I mean, the truth of the matter is, Alex Mooney is from Maryland and absolutely, teatotally in every way connected to Maryland,” Justice said.
“He’s in the U.S. Congress and at the end of the day, I’ll promise you from Clarksburg south nobody’s hardly seen him. I’ve seen him one time.”