Although the numbers were looking good if he had decided to bolt the Washington he so often bemoans, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., made the right decision by not entering the race for West Virginia governor in 2020.
There are any number of reasons Manchin’s choice, announced Tuesday after toying with the notion of returning to the Mountain State for a gubernatorial bid for some time, might be seen as wise from a political perspective.
If looking through the lens of the Democratic Party, this removes the shadow Manchin had over the upcoming gubernatorial election, and any candidates who were hesitating may now move forward.
Having at least one congressional representative from West Virginia in the Democratic ranks is also something the party wouldn’t want to lose. Others have speculated that Manchin stands to be quite powerful if the Democrats should take the White House or even up their slight Senate minority in 2020. That’s well and good enough, although Democrats who know Manchin’s centrist nature might not hold out much hope for needed shifts in things like climate policy.
Manchin’s a ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, but that “D” behind his name doesn’t mean he aligns with his party members totally on climate issues, especially representing a state where coal is hanging on for dear life and natural gas is booming.
In his announcement, Manchin said he believes the place where he could do the best to help his state is in the Senate. Using the entire history of West Virginia politics as a benchmark, “helping the state” isn’t going to include a rapid transition from fossil fuels.
On the other side of the aisle, Republicans might think Manchin is doing the right thing because, at 72, this could be his last term in office and they’ll have a better shot at the Senate in 2024. The GOP is also probably breathing a sigh of relief, as polling numbers had suggested Manchin would join the gubernatorial race with a healthy lead on incumbent Gov. Jim Justice, the Democrat-turned-Republican whom Manchin had backed for the job in 2016.
Then there’s the matter of Manchin’s replacement in the Senate, which could have gotten dicey for the GOP and the Democrats.
All of this makes for some interesting speculation, but the answer to whether this was the correct call for Manchin is far more simple. It was the right decision, because Manchin was reelected to the Senate in 2018. It might have been by a mere 3 percentage points, but the result stands. When the voters give a candidate another six-year term in the upper chamber of Congress, it’s not so that candidate can flee after serving a year to chase something else.
There are situations when leaving early makes sense: a scandal, a family tragedy, health issues, malfeasance through which the voters have lost confidence, or, as was the case when Manchin left in his second term as governor, the sudden vacant seat of a higher office.
Barring any of that, voters expect Manchin to serve. It’s a bit strange to congratulate someone for making the right decision in choosing to continue to do what they were elected to do. Then again, even a cursory glance at West Virginia and U.S. political history proves that’s not always as easy as it sounds.