Feb 5, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Joe Manchin feels the heat in West Virginia

Photo: William B. Plowman/NBC via Getty Images

Get ready for one of the messiest statewide campaigns in recent West Virginia history — whether or not Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) runs for re-election.

Why it matters: West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) would pose the biggest Republican threat Manchin has faced in his 12-year Senate career.

  • Justice, a former Democrat, is inching closer to a Senate campaign against Manchin, according to Republicans familiar with his thinking. The move would give Republicans a strong opportunity to win the red-state seat.
  • Justice has a 64% approval rating in the state, 24 percentage points higher than Manchin's, and told CBS News he'll decide this month whether he's running.

If Justice gets in, he faces a primary against Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.V.), a Freedom Caucus member who plans on going after the governor for supporting wasteful spending.

  • Mooney defeated former GOP Rep. David McKinley last year in a race that hinged on whether West Virginia Republicans favored a lawmaker who could bring federal money back home or one who pledged to hold a fiscally conservative line. They chose the latter.

What they're saying: "I’ve given a lot of thought and I’m still very, very, very seriously considering it," Justice told Wheeling-area television station WTRF. "In fact, I’m probably leaning that way.”

Between the lines: If he runs, Justice will face questions about his personal finances. A 2019 Fortune magazine profile describes the governor as "a man who has a hard time paying the bills":

Since 2016 courts have ordered Justice and his companies to pay more than $10 million to more than a dozen suppliers, workers and government entities. Over the same time, his companies also piled up $13 million-plus in tax liens. He claims to have paid off many of these.

By the numbers: Manchin, who has not decided whether he'll run for re-election, raised only $175,000 in the final three months of 2022 but still ended the year with a hefty $9.53 million in his campaign coffers.

Go deeper