After considering a campaign to return to the Governor’s Office where he spent seven years, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced Tuesday that he will stay in the U.S. Senate.
Although he has teased the notion of running throughout most of 2019, Manchin — West Virginia’s most prominent Democratic politician — said in a news release that he will be staying put.
“The Senate, as envisioned by our Founders, is the greatest deliberative body in the world, and, when it is at its best, Senators can transform the lives of people across America for the better,” he said in an 800-word statement.
“Whether that means protecting those with pre-existing conditions, ensuring healthcare and pensions for our miners, or building the roads and bridges, and broadband infrastructure that make our country competitive, we can make a difference here.”
Manchin said at a news conference in Charleston Tuesday afternoon that he had made up his mind Monday. He said he was with his wife, Gayle, at the time.
“When it came down to it, I had to make a decision where I thought I could be — have the most impact,” he said. “Where can I have the best voice to be able to speak and brag about the state of West Virginia, protect the state of West Virginia on a national basis because of energy changes, and also, on appropriations, make sure we get our fair share?”
The announcement likely puts an end to months of will-he-won’t-he fervor surrounding Manchin, who was elected to another six-year term in the Senate in 2018.
For the moment, Stephen Smith, a progressive community organizer, stands as the only Democrat in the gubernatorial race with an established campaign and financing to back his bid.
“What our state needed yesterday is exactly the same today,” Smith said after Manchin’s announcement. “West Virginia needs a movement — not a king or a savior.”
Smith said that, between hosting 114 town halls and building a slate of more than 50 candidates under his wing, he’s building “the people’s political machine” as an engine to make a difference.
Manchin didn’t endorse anyone Tuesday. He called the field “wide open.”
“I’ve heard there was a lot of people contemplating whether they would run or not, and that’s why I set the date for Tuesday,” he said.
West Virginia’s senior senator said he had decided “way back when” to announce his decision around Labor Day.
Manchin said that, when he was governor, he and Smith worked well together.
“Stephen is a fine young man,” Manchin said. “I’ve known Stephen for a long time, I think he’s well-intended, I haven’t seen the policies, as far as his running-for-governor policies, I haven’t looked into that, but I know him as a person.”
The news also takes pressure off of incumbent Gov. Jim Justice; his ousted commerce secretary, Woody Thrasher, and former state delegate Mike Folk, all of whom are seeking the GOP nomination for the seat.
In a statement Monday, Justice said he would “continue to bring people together from both parties, including working with Senator Manchin, to ensure a bright future for all West Virginians.”
Among the reasons he’s staying in the Senate, Manchin cited his perch as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He said he wants to use the post to push for an “all-of-the-above” energy plan.
“From advanced nuclear to renewables to carbon capture utilization and storage, we are going to build an energy base that protects jobs, keeps prices low, and recognizes the reality of climate change,” he said in his news release. “Not only that, I am going to do everything in my power to make sure that those advanced technologies are manufactured and deployed in West Virginia.”
Manchin said at the news conference that eliminating fossil fuels is “not the real world; it’s not reality,” and suggested using trade deals to entice countries to use fossil fuels in a cleaner manner.
Manchin also said staying in his position means West Virginia will continue to have two senators on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Montana is the only other state where both senators are members.
Thrasher issued a statement Tuesday about the news. He said he and Manchin agree on at least one thing — a need for change in the executive branch.
“Things are not on the right track,” he said. “Sen. Manchin and I both believe this is a full-time job for a person our state can be proud of, with an honorable reputation, who puts the state’s best interests first. It’s not about using the governor’s mansion for parties; it’s about being present. Our governor should be working every day with a focused plan and a real vision for improvement, and I remain the only person in this race with the experience and the drive to do it.”
State Democratic Party Chairwoman Belinda Biafore weighed in as well.
“We support Senator Manchin continuing his position in the U.S. Senate and working together to move West Virginia forward to brighter days,” she said.
In January, Manchin made a cryptic reference to a perception that Justice is a no-show governor, as spelled out in a lawsuit filed against Justice for living in Lewisburg instead of Charleston, as the state constitution requires.
“Those who know me know how much I loved being the Governor of West Virginia,” he wrote Tuesday. “I worked the daylights out of that job. I couldn’t wait to wake up in the Governor’s Mansion in the morning, and I didn’t want to go to bed at night, because there was always more that I could do for our state. And that is what it takes to be an effective Governor: relentless effort.”