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Trump ally Jim Justice announces campaign to unseat Manchin in Senate

By Jimmy Adeel
|
April 30, 2023

Republican Governor Jim Justice has officially announced his candidacy for the United States Senate from West Virginia. Justice's entry into the race sets up a heated Republican primary, which is critical to the fight for Senate control and a possible bid against Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, as reported by NBC News.

“I’m officially announcing my candidacy for United States Senate. I’m a patriot and a conservative, and I firmly believe America is the greatest country on Earth, and we’re all blessed to live here. If the great people of West Virginia elect me, I will work every day to put America and West Virginia first,” said Governor Justice announcing his candidacy.

Governor Justice's Candidacy

Governor Justice, a popular two-term governor with vast personal wealth, is a formidable candidate for the GOP in a state critical to the party's path to a Senate majority.

West Virginia is considered a top pickup opportunity for Republicans, as former President Donald Trump won the state by almost 40 points in 2020.

Justice announced that he had spoken with former President Trump about the possibility of an endorsement before his official announcement. He also anticipates receiving "a potful" of endorsements from Republican state legislators.

Party leaders, including National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Steve Daines and the GOP super PAC Senate Leadership Fund, have praised Justice's record and ability to challenge Sen. Manchin.

Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Lindsey Graham also endorsed Justice at his announcement event.

Approval Ratings

Governor Justice has a high approval rating among West Virginia voters, which he emphasized to CBS News: "Just look at how I am accepted by the voters. I have a (high) approval rating. You don't just get that by falling off a log."

Justice was first elected as governor in 2016 as a Democrat, but he switched parties just months into his first term.

Justice is term-limited as governor, with 20 months remaining in his second term. If he pursues a Senate campaign, he will face a GOP primary next spring against Rep. Alex Mooney, a Republican from West Virginia.

Competing for the GOP Nomination

Despite his support, Justice won't have an easy path to the Republican nomination. Republican Rep. Alex Mooney, who entered the Senate race in November, has already launched a TV ad labeling Justice as "liberal Jim Justice," criticizing his policies on the Covid pandemic and taxes.

Justice retaliated with a video at his announcement event, referring to Mooney as an "all-talk, no-action D.C. politician." The conservative Club for Growth PAC has endorsed Mooney, and its president, David McIntosh, said the PAC could spend more than $10 million in the primary.

A Potential Race Against Manchin

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin from West Virginia, who has yet to announce whether he will seek reelection in 2024, he is also a former West Virginia governor, having served from 2005 to 2010.

During a public appearance in Martinsburg, West Virginia, earlier this year, Justice claimed he would be the favorite to defeat Manchin, despite the latter's long tenure and popularity in the state.

Investments and Impact on the Senate

Outside groups have already started investing in the race. Senate Leadership Fund's nonprofit arm, One Nation, aired a TV ad targeting Manchin, while the Democratic group Senate Majority PAC launched an ad labeling Manchin as a "commonsense senator."

The outcome of the West Virginia Senate race will significantly impact the battle for the Senate. Republicans need a net gain of just one or two seats to take control of the chamber.

Seeking Trump's Endorsement

Both Mooney and Justice seek former President Donald Trump's endorsement, which could shake up the primary race. Justice, a former Democrat, switched parties at a Trump rally in 2017 and has emphasized his close relationship with the Trump family. Trump previously endorsed Mooney in last year's 2nd District primary.