U.S. Rep. and 2018 Senate candidate Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., is urging potential opponent Patrick Morrisey to stop his primary run before it has a chance to start.
Via a recent media blitz, Jenkins has been pushing the message that Morrisey, West Virginia’s sitting attorney general, would be breaking a promise to voters if he resigns from his position in order to serve in the U.S. Senate. In that scenario, Gov. Jim Justice would appoint Morrisey’s replacement, likely to be a Democrat.
“The big question and concern from voters is, ‘We voted for you for attorney general for the next four years, it’s a promise you made to us, and now you’re breaking that promise and attempting, for your own political ambition, to leave a vacancy that would be filled by Gov. Justice,’ ” Jenkins said. “It undoubtedly would be a Democrat. Without any impact from voters, one person would decide who our chief lawyer would be for the next two years. That’s not what voters voted for in 2016, and it’s not what Patrick Morrisey promised.”
Though Morrisey has not declared his candidacy for Senate, he announced earlier this month he is “seriously considering” a run for the seat of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and will make up his mind over the next two months.
According to Mike Queen, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, if Morrisey were to run, he would be able to maintain his seat while he campaigns and would only be required by law to resign in January 2019 if he were to win. At that point, Justice could pick whomever he desires to fill the remainder of the term, which would end in January 2021.
While critics of Jenkins might say he is trying to prevent competition in the primary so he can focus on Manchin in the general election, Jenkins said he’s not working any tactic, but voters should be aware of what could happen if Morrisey were to win.
“I’m not trying to scare off anything, we have an open election process — anybody is able to run, and I encourage open ballots,” he said. “What I’m simply reacting to is the question of the moment, because Patrick Morrisey doesn’t appear interested in talking about the ramifications of what would happen to his current position if he either drops out to run, or runs and wins.”
Furthering his argument, Jenkins said several states’ attorneys general have made the decision to sue President Donald Trump. He said a liberal attorney general in West Virginia may have opted to join in on the suit.
When asked what she thought of the maneuver, Brittni McGuire, a spokeswoman for the state Democratic party, said Jenkins’ claim is somewhat hypocritical, given his years of legislating as a Democrat before registering as a Republican to run for House in 2014.
“I think it’s hypocritical for Evan Jenkins to tell anyone they are ‘breaking promises’ when he was elected as a Democrat by his constituents and then abandoned them by switching parties and throwing their values to the side,” she said. “What about that broken promise?”
Though the ultimate decision of his candidacy remains to be seen, Morrisey has stepped aside before to clear the way for other Republican candidates. In late 2014, he toyed with the idea of a gubernatorial run in the 2016 election. However, he opted to step aside to run for attorney general again, leaving Republican candidate Bill Cole to run against Justice.
Before his gubernatorial, possible senatorial and attorney general runs in the Mountain State, Morrisey ran for public office in 2000 in New Jersey’s congressional race for the 7th district, losing in the primaries by a wide margin.
Since he took over his current position, a cloud of controversies has followed him around, from his ties to pharmaceutical companies he and his wife have lobbied for, to his involvement in lawsuits against those companies he was said to have recused himself from, to his active fights against Planned Parenthood while his wife lobbies for the organization.
Whether or not Morrisey enters the race, names are stacking up in possible contention for Manchin’s seat. On the right, laid-off coal miner Bo Copley, who came to fame when he confronted Hillary Clinton for comments she made regarding coal on the presidential campaign trail, has announced plans to run.
On the left, activist Paula Jean Swearengin has announced plans to run in the primary against Manchin.
Interestingly, Justice himself made room for Jenkins’ argument. A bill nearly went the distance during the 2017 legislative session that would have, if a constitutional office holder such as attorney general were to resign, required the governor to appoint a successor from the same party he or she was affiliated with at the time of the resignation.
The bill passed through the legislature, but Justice vetoed it, citing its potential to reward “political tomfoolery.”
Multiple attempts were made this week to contact Morrisey for this article, though none yielded a response.
Reach Jake Zuckerman at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-4814 or follow @jake_zuckerman on Twitter.