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Money flows in for Manchin, Jenkins ahead of potential Senate race

Gazette-Mail file photo
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks about the importance of rehabilitation centers in West Virginia alongside Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va. (left), after the two toured Lily’s Place, a residential infant drug recovery center in Huntington on Aug. 13, 2015. Jenkins has said he might consider running for Manchin’s Senate seat.

Joe Manchin, West Virginia’s lone Democrat in Congress, has been racking up contributions for what is likely to be a tight competition to keep his U.S. Senate seat.

Between Jan. 1 and March 31 of this year, Manchin received $556,198 in total contributions. He has roughly $2.17 million in campaign cash on hand, according to data from the Federal Elections Commission.

Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., said earlier this year that he was “strongly considering” a run against Manchin for the seat. The longtime Democrat, who switched parties just before his first successful congressional run in 2014, received $367,726 in total contributions for his congressional campaign in the same quarter, a chunk of his $1.04 million cash on hand. Because U.S. representatives and senators both serve at the federal level, campaign funds can be transferred between the two races.

Jenkins’ quarterly total is significantly more than West Virginia’s other two congressmen, also Republicans, raised from January to March. Rep. David McKinley brought in $126,874, to raise his cash on hand to $573,090, and Rep. Alex Mooney gained $193,628 in contributions, raising his total to $560,904.

Andy Sere, a campaign consultant for Jenkins, said Monday the congressman hasn’t yet decided if he will run for the Senate.

No contribution totals were available Monday for state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, another Republican who has been mentioned as a potential opponent for Manchin.

The national Cook Political Report rates the 2018 U.S. Senate race in West Virginia as “likely Democratic,” meaning the seat is not yet competitive, although it has the potential ramp up.

In 2014’s U.S. Senate race, then-Rep. Shelley Moore Capito raked in nearly $9.46 million. The Republican spent $8.78 million of that to easily defeat her Democratic challenger, then-Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, by more than 27 points. For her part, Tennant hauled in $3.68 million, of which she spent $3.56 million.

Although there is plenty of room to outflank the centrist Manchin from the left via a primary, Belinda Biafore, chairwoman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, said she doesn’t expect much of a fight there.

She said that although Democrats might not be thrilled with the senator, his recent slew of town halls in West Virginia helped pacify some of his constituents.

“There was a lot of talk about folks getting petitions against the senator and looking for somebody to primary him,” Biafore said. “I think that has calmed down some, and I think a big part of it is because Senator Manchin has not been afraid to sit down and talk to people, whether or not it’s controversial. He’s attended a lot of these town meetings, when asked. He seems to be there to listen, to try to help and to explain what’s going on.”

In total, 33 Senate seats are up in 2018. Of those, 25 are held by Democrats, and just eight by Republicans. In addition, a special election will be held in Alabama to replace Republican Jeff Sessions, who left his seat to become U.S. attorney general. That election also is set for 2018, but some in Alabama are trying to get it moved up.

Of the 25 Democratic seats up in 2018, 10 — including Manchin’s — are in states that went for Republican President Donald Trump in last year’s election. Only one of the Republican seats up in 2018, in Nevada, is in a state that went for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Manchin has been one of the Democratic senators most favorable to Trump, and was one of the few to vote for his U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. But Manchin also voted against a rule change — the so-called “nuclear option” — that allowed Republican senators to overcome a Democratic filibuster against Gorsuch.

Reach Jake Zuckerman at jake.zuckerman@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @jake_zuckerman on Twitter.

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