Governor Jim Justice will challenge West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin in 2024.
West Virginia only permits governors to serve two, four-year terms consecutively. Justice could seek the governorship again but not in 2024.
Although he has not made a formal announcement, Justice filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission establishing the “Jim Justice for U.S. Senate” campaign.
Justice is a native of West Virginia and a billionaire businessman who works in the agriculture and coal industry. Initially elected as a Democrat, Justice announced in 2017 at a rally for President Donald Trump that he was switching parties.
“Today, I will tell you, with lots of prayers and lots of thinking … I can’t help you anymore being a Democrat governor,” Justice said, per the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “So tomorrow, I will be changing my registration to Republican.”
Justice had previously been registered as a Republican and as an independent.
West Virginia Congressman Alex Mooney, a member of the Freedom Caucus, has already launched his senatorial campaign. Mooney, who was first elected to US Congress in 2014, told Newsmax on April 21 that he does not believe Manchin, a Democrat, cannot win reelection.
“I say West Virginia is a lot like Florida where registration numbers have skyrocket[ed] for Republicans right now,” Mooney said. “[The voters are] going to throw him out of office next year, one way or another. I’m not even sure if he’s going to run again. He stopped raising money and his chief of staff recently left. He cannot win [in] West Virginia anymore. He barely won last time.”
Like Justice, Mooney has been a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump.
The governor has a 64% approval rating whereas Machin has a 40% approval rating, per Axios.
Once political allies, rivalry has grown during the last seven years between the governor and Manchin, who supported Justice during his first gubernatorial campaign in 2016. The two have sparred over Justice’s push to eliminate the state’s income tax, which Machin has called a mistake. Justice also fired Machin’s wife Gayle from the state’s secretary of Education and the Arts position in 2018, per WV Metro News.
It was widely believed that Machin would run for governor in 2020, a position he held from 2005 to 2010. The now-two-term senator ultimately opted to stay in Washington, where he said he believed he could be “the most effective for the Mountain State.”
“I get to set policy,” the senator said at a press conference in September 2019, per Politico. “I get to make sure that West Virginia is not left out.”
His decision to remain in the Senate helped the Democratic Party secure a majority in the Senate during the 2022 midterm elections.
Manchin previously said that he will decide about seeking reelection shortly before his filing deadline on Jan. 15, 2024.
Republicans are now looking to claim a majority in the Senate in 2024 and the race in West Virginia could potentially tip the scales in the party’s favor.
“I am laser focused on doing the job West Virginians elected me to do – lowering healthcare costs, protecting Social Security and Medicare, shoring up American energy security and getting our fiscal house in order. But make no mistake, I will win any race I enter,” Manchin told reporters on April 26 after news of Justice’s filing broke, per The Hill.
A number of Republicans are vying to replace Justice, including West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who launched his gubernatorial campaign on April 4.