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Manchin: A Senator at a Crossroads

Charleston, West ⁢Virginia, is about ‍360 ⁤winding miles from Washington. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) visits the city ‌often when in the state ​that he’s represented in the U.S. Senate for a dozen years.

Charleston is familiar, friendly turf. Raised in ‍the Alleghenies near Pennsylvania, Mr. ​Manchin is a well-known face in the state’s capital, where he worked and lived ⁣as a state lawmaker,⁣ secretary of state, and governor for more than ‍three decades.

During an Oct. 11–13 ‌swing through Charleston, he was celebrated at an Amtrak station renovated with grants he secured;‌ at a metal-stamping plant founded with economic development initiatives⁣ he enacted as​ governor; and at an annual ⁣veterans motorcycle fundraiser ride that he’s headlined for years.

Mr. Manchin’s local legacies are ⁤built‍ into bolts and‍ bricks, solid as steel, and part of ‍the physical landscape. It’s the type of familiar, friendly turf where a 76-year-old​ veteran ⁣of a half-century of Hill-Topper and Capitol Hill ⁢politics could retire to—or launch an underdog presidential campaign from.

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The odds of such an insurgency⁢ gaining steam, or even much notice, ⁢are incalculable in a changed political landscape that’s no longer the familiar, friendly domain ‌he plied between party hedges for years.

Mr. Manchin’s middle road is now a barbed-wire ribbon on⁤ a divided highway.

Beyond Charleston, even within West Virginia, Mr. Manchin’s stature⁣ is‍ as fuzzy​ as ‍is‍ his status as the Senate’s most “conservative” Democrat, a cross-aisle back-slapper‍ whose deal-making days are numbered.

No Country⁤ for Old Centrists

The make-a-deal pliability that made Mr. Manchin a crafty centrist with de facto thumbs-up, thumbs-down veto power over both parties’ agendas for years—often cast after dramatic deliberative pauses ‍and media speculation—fostered his⁣ outsized ascendancy in national affairs.

And now, so‍ pundits ⁢say, his ​arc is flattening, pausing to plunge, headed for a hard, fast fall.

Mr. Manchin is among three incumbent Senate Democrats elected in 2018 in states⁤ won by former President Donald Trump ​in 2020 and whose seats ​are on 2024 ballots.

President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally in Huntington, W.Va., on Nov. 2, 2018. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)

The National Republican​ Senate ⁢Committee has focused on his seat, ⁣as well as those held by Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Sherrod ⁢Brown (D-Ohio), as “most ⁣flippable” in its 2024 drive to reclaim the majority in ⁢a chamber now⁣ led 51–49 by Democrats.

Before 2000, all three West Virginia congressional representatives were Democrats. Since then, the state’s House delegation ⁣has been⁣ all GOP. Republicans have controlled both state ⁣legislative chambers since 2015, and expanded that ⁢to a trifecta ‌since 2018.

West Virginians have voted Republican in the⁣ last six presidential elections, including nearly 70 percent⁣ for President Trump in 2020.

He is ‍the only West Virginia Democrat elected to represent the ​state.

While Mr. Manchin⁢ has voted ⁢with Republicans against raising the⁤ corporate tax, trimming⁢ COVID-related unemployment benefits, derailing Democrats’ election-reform bill, and refusing to modify filibuster rules, ⁢he’s also committed ​the unpardonable—he voted twice to impeach ⁢President‍ Trump.

Hence, there’s no shortage of Republicans ready to seize Mr. Manchin’s Senate seat in⁣ a state that all election rating services shade as red, redder, reddest; a state where President ⁣Trump is the most popular president since FDR; ⁤a state where a ⁢“not-a-Washington-Democrat” moderate is a gray ⁤whale in a ⁣sea of hungry black-and-white orcas.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is followed to his car by reporters ‌after participating ‌in a vote at the ⁢U.S. Capitol in Washington on Dec. 14, ‌2021. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

New and Less Blue

The two leading GOP rivals seeking to win⁤ the Senate seat held by Mr. Manchin are Gov. Jim ⁣Justice and Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.).

Mr. Manchin recruited​ Mr. ​Justice to run ⁢for⁤ governor in ‌2015 as a Democrat. During an August 2017 rally, Mr. Justice joined then-President Trump to announce he was a Republican. Now, he’s running for Mr. Manchin’s Senate seat.

On Oct. 18, Mr. Trump endorsed Mr. Justice in the Republican primary—aside from‌ Arizona Senate candidate Kari Lake, his only 2024 Senate nod ​thus far—over Mr. Mooney, who he backed​ in his 2022 congressional⁣ campaign.

The Democrat primary, meanwhile, has no takers. Mr. Manchin hasn’t said if he’ll seek⁣ a fourth term in the Senate, nor if he’ll​ do so as​ a Democrat or as ⁢an independent. The filing deadline is in January 2024.

Over the years, Mr. Manchin has mentioned retirement—he’s been at this since the Reagan days—pondered ​becoming a Republican, and has often expressed disenchantment with both parties and the⁢ two-party system.

Since August, he’s openly teased running as an ‍independent in the⁢ next phase of his political​ career, but hasn’t revealed any more than that.

He’s hinted at running for president in 2024‌ as an independent, joining Robert F.⁤ Kennedy Jr. as a second presidential⁢ hopeful to take on the ‍two dominant party candidates.

Mr. Manchin has appeared in New Hampshire with⁤ No‌ Labels, which is backing a 2024 independent presidential candidate. During the late-September Texas Tribune Festival in⁤ Austin, he said ⁢an independent presidential ticket could animate ⁣a nation paralyzed in hyperpartisan fiddle-fests.

“We are having a hard time. We are in trouble, and I’ve never been more concerned about the challenges we ⁤have,” he said, noting nearly a third of registered voters view both the Republican and Democratic parties ⁣negatively.

People with the group⁤ No Labels hold signs during a rally on Capitol Hill in⁤ Washington, ​on July 18, 2011. More than 15,000 people in Arizona have‌ registered to join a new‌ political party floating a possible ‍bipartisan “unity ticket” against Joe Biden and Donald⁢ Trump. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

A third-party or independent candidate or ⁤“bipartisan ticket” could be viable right now, he said,‍ because most Americans are concerned about the intractability of political parties dominated by their most‌ ideological extremes.

He offered, for example, himself as such a model candidate, not that he’s running‍ for president.

At least not until January.

Campaigning⁢ for⁢ a Campaign

West​ Virginia ⁣Gov. ‌Jim Justice at a Make America Great Again rally in Huntington, W.Va., on Nov. 2, 2018. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

Mr. Manchin’s​ campaign committee reported that he’s sitting⁢ on $10.8 million in cash-on-hand as of Oct. 1, making him well-positioned⁤ for a 2024 campaign.

While Mr. Justice’s campaign reported only $800,000 in its Oct. 1‌ bank, he’s the state’s wealthiest ​man—he once owned 130 businesses—with a significant capacity to self-finance.

He lives at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, “America’s Resort Since⁤ 1778,” an 11,000-acre, ‌710-room resort he owns that includes dozens of restaurants, lounges, and retail shops, drawing “Little Trump” comparisons.

Even before Mr.⁣ Trump’s endorsement, regardless if Mr. Manchin declares a run for reelection,‍ Mr. Justice is the odds-on front-runner to​ be West‍ Virginia’s next senator.

In an Oct. 1–4 Emerson College survey of 539 voters, Mr. ‌Justice garnered 41 percent of the tally. Mr. Manchin finished third with ⁣just 28 ⁢percent. Undecided, or someone else,⁤ notched 31 percent.

The good news for Mr. Manchin is this poll and others nationwide confirm there ​are voters out there—maybe a third, maybe ​more, ‌of the electorate—open to independent candidates or “bipartisan⁢ tickets.”

The bad news for Mr. Manchin is, in ‍West Virginia anyway, a ticket with his name on it won’t sell. Not any‍ more.

West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin speaks with reporters outside the newly renovated Amtrak train station in Charleston, W.Va., on Oct.‌ 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Leah Willingham)

Outside ‍South Charleston’s‍ Gestamp metal-stamping plant, a $120 million, 350-employee factory rooted in tax credits and workforce development initiatives established while he was governor, Mr. Manchin assured reporters on Oct. 11 that he was getting closer to making a 2024 decision.

“I’m ⁤having a hard⁣ time—I really⁣ am,” ⁣he said when ⁣asked if he would run for something in 2024 and what something he would be. Democrat? Independent? Republican?

Maybe no party, maybe all of the above, he said.

“Don’t worry about the​ ‘D’ or the ‘R,’ worry about the person. Who is that‍ person? There can​ be a good ‘D’ and a bad ‘D,’ and a good ‘R’ and ⁢a bad ‘R,’⁣ but the identity? I like more the⁢ independent identity,” Mr. Manchin said. “The two-party system, ‌unless it changes, will be the downfall of our country.”

How has the shifting dynamics in ​West Virginia‌ impacted Mr. Manchin’s ‌standing and political future?

An ‍criticism and opposition to his position within his own‍ party.

Challenging Political Landscape

Mr. Manchin’s ⁤centrist approach ⁤and willingness ​to work​ across party lines made him a formidable figure‍ in⁢ the political arena.‍ However, ​the current political landscape has undergone significant changes, leaving him in a precarious⁣ position. ‍The intense polarization and ideological divisions have⁣ made it​ increasingly difficult⁢ for centrist politicians like Mr. Manchin to navigate.

In his home state of West ‌Virginia, even his standing is ⁢starting to waver. Once a ⁢well-known and‌ respected figure, ‍Mr. Manchin’s position as the Senate’s most “conservative” Democrat is ‍now viewed with skepticism. The shifting dynamics of the state, which has increasingly ⁢leaned towards the Republican Party, further complicate his political future.

Furthermore, the 2024 elections pose a⁣ new challenge for Mr. ⁢Manchin and his fellow incumbent Democrats.‌ Having been elected in ‌states that ​favored former President Donald Trump in the ⁢2020 election, their seats are now considered⁣ highly‌ vulnerable and a primary target⁣ for Republicans aiming to regain the majority in the Senate.

President Donald Trump ​arrives ‌to speak at a campaign rally in Huntington, W.Va., on Nov. 2, ‌2018. ⁢(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP ‍via Getty Images)

The National Republican Senate Committee has ⁤identified Mr. ‌Manchin’s ‌seat, ​along with those ​held by Sens. ⁢Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), as key opportunities ⁢for a party comeback. With Democrats⁣ holding a slim majority of 51-49 in the Senate, the⁢ stakes are⁢ high for⁤ Mr. Manchin​ to maintain his position.

West Virginia itself has experienced a shift towards Republican dominance ‌in recent ⁢years. The state’s congressional representation ‍has shifted completely ‍to the GOP since ⁤2000.‍ Republicans have also gained control of both state⁣ legislative chambers since 2015, solidifying ‍their ⁢hold‌ on power. In the⁢ past six presidential elections, West Virginians have consistently voted for Republican candidates, including ‌giving President Trump nearly 70 percent ⁤of the vote ‌in 2020.

In this challenging political climate, Mr. Manchin’s willingness

Read More From Original Article Here: Manchin in the Middle—a Senator at a Crossroads

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