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If voters send Justice to Capitol Hill, he says ‘I’ll have to do it in my style’

Joe Manchin, West Virginia dealmaker and political lifer, once said of the U.S. Senate “this place sucks.” The most prominent candidate to replace him, Gov. Jim Justice, is already saying “There’s nothing that excites me about going to D.C. I’ll have to do it in my style.”

Manchin, a Democrat, decided not to run for reelection in increasingly Republican-leaning West Virginia this year. So the seat is open and most national pundits believe the seat is likely to swing to a Republican.

Polling favors Justice, a two-term governor, former Democrat, Trump buddy, businessman, one-time billionaire, girls basketball coach, dog lover, fast food enthusiast and homebody. West Virginia’s primary election day is Tuesday.

Manchin is leaving the Senate seat after first being elected in 2010. In recent years, the centrist Manchin has been a key swing vote. Manchin, who came up through West Virginia’s legislature, relished deal-making opportunities on policies, embracing conversations about compromise aboard his houseboat, “Almost Heaven,” or over Italian takeout. 

As Manchin faced an earlier tough decision about whether to seek re-election in 2018, he told The New York Times that he repeatedly told colleagues including Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, “this place sucks,” a blunt assessment of dysfunction. Then, last November, over months of speculation over whether Manchin would defend the seat for another cycle, he announced that he would not. 

He is leaving the seat that Senator Robert Byrd, a Democrat, held for more than 50 years — from 1959 until his death in 2010. Byrd remains the longest-serving U.S. Senator in history.

Gov. Jim Justice

Justice, 73, has regularly said he doesn’t look forward to spending a lot of time in Washington, D.C., but he has said he’s felt called to run, potentially tilting the balance of a very narrowly-divided Senate. His campaign has been supported by the Senate’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, and Senator Steve Daines, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Last week during a regular news briefing, MetroNews asked Justice if he intends to serve a full six-year term in the Senate.

“I sure hope so. And maybe another six and maybe another six,” Justice said. “I feel great, and you know I’ve got a lot of energy in what I do, and so I sure hope and pray the good lord gives me life and good health for a long time to come. But we sure do need a lot, a lot of things up there. We need new ideas.”

Further into his response, Justice said, “There’s nothing that excites me about going to D.C. I’ll have to do it in my style. It’ll be different. It’ll be really different. But with all that being said, I’ll stand by my deeds. I absolutely will stand exactly by my deeds. And D.C. needs something really different.

“It’ll be different for me. It’ll be a challenge, and everything, but it was really different when I walked in the door here.”

Going on eight years in the Governor’s Office, Justice faced controversy over maintaining his home two hours from the capital in Lewisburg, winding up in a court battle over the state constitution’s residency requirements. He continued to coach the Greenbrier East girls basketball team and wanted to take on the boys team too.

He typically responded to criticisms by saying he wanted to be out among the people and not behind a desk. “You want me to sit over there at the mansion and get gold stars for just sitting there? You want me to do what’s been done in the past?” he said in 2019. 

Last April, right after announcing his Senate run, Justice said on statewide radio that he’ll find ways to adjust to life in and out of the nation’s capital.

“From the standpoint of being in Washington, going back and forth and everything, I do have the means to be able to do that, do that very quickly,” he said. “You know, I can fly on my plane, go back and forth a whole lot. Surely I’ll have to live there a whole lot and everything. But we’ll make all that work.”

Last November, as another season of basketball was about to tip off, MetroNews asked Justice if he was considering whether it would be his last as coach. “I guess we’ll see, won’t we,” he said.

“I think we’ll win going away,” he said then of the Senate race. “We’ll step back and see what time requirements and everything. I do have the ability to come and go very quickly, from that standpoint.”

The Senate does take breaks so that members can go home, but calendars that have already come out for 2024 show the chamber in session most days in the months that make up basketball season.

A few weeks ago, on March 20, West Virginia Public Broadcasting reporter Randy Yohe asked Justice about how his frequent habit of being late might apply to the duties and traditions of the Senate. “A U.S. Senator needs to show up on time. You’ll have debates. You’ll have votes. You’ll have committee meetings. Governor, you’re often late,” Yohe said. “What do you tell voters who have concern about your time management?”

Justice responded, “I can tell you that if there’s a vote that has to be made and it has to be made at a specific time or someway, somehow I always make it.”

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., endorsed Justice’s campaign for Senate more than a year ago. Last week, Capito acknowledged Justice might approach the job of U.S. Senator differently than she does.

“I’ve had several conversations with Governor Justice throughout this whole process. Obviously, I encouraged him to run. We had a long conversation about what life is like in the United States Senate,” said Capito, who was first elected to Congress in 2000 and to the Senate in 2015.

Shelley Moore Capito

“And he is so passionate about serving and wanting to be a part of making this country stronger and more powerful. And so I fully believe that he will be a very effective member. He may do it his own way. He may go back and forth more than, say, I do. But I don’t know anything Governor Justice does that he’s not on board 150 percent. So I expect him to serve the same way in the United States Senate and I look forward to having him up here.”

Alex Mooney

Justice’s main Republican challenger is Alex Mooney, a 52-year-old Charles Town resident who has served in Congress since 2015. Before winning the congressional seat, Mooney was a Maryland state senator from 1999 to 2010 and then chairman of Maryland’s Republican Party from 2010 to 2013.

Mooney has been subject of a congressional ethics probe that included allegations about whether a company providing services to his campaign committee provided his family with a free or below-market-value trip to Aruba. Questions also arose about the use of a Washington, D.C. residence, tasks assigned to staff, the use of campaign funds, and possible document tampering.

In the House of Representatives, Mooney is a member of the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus. As right-leaning members of the U.S. Senate have been trying to tilt the balance in their favor, senators like Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas have pushed for Mooney. “He will keep his word that he will faithfully fight to defend the constitution, to defend our nation, to defend freedom,” Cruz said of Mooney at a campaign appearance this month.

Mooney’s campaign, asked by MetroNews if he would commit to serving a full six-year term in the Senate, responded with a straightforward answer.

“I will serve the full six-year term,” Mooney said, “and I will spend every day energetically fighting for West Virginia’s conservative values.”

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