West Virginia’s controversial Democratic US senator Joe Manchin has announced that he will not seek re-election in 2024 and will instead “fight to unite the middle”.
The 76-year-old senator, who for years has held an outsized degree of power within the Democratic party and often defied its leadership, appeared in July at an event held by a political group exploring a third-party presidential bid.
Manchin’s appearance with the centrist No Labels group fueled speculation that he was considering a run for the presidency, a scenario that alarmed Democrats as it could weaken Joe Biden’s candidacy for another term in the White House.
On Thursday afternoon, Manchin put out a statement saying: “After months of deliberation and long conversations with my family, I believe in my heart of hearts that I have accomplished what I set out to do for West Virginia. I have made one of the toughest decisions of my life and decided that I will not be running for re-election to the United States Senate.”
He added: “But what I will be doing is traveling the country and speaking out to see if there is an interest in creating a movement to mobilize the middle and bring Americans together.”
No Labels sees Manchin as a potential candidate for its centrist platform. Although No Labels, which has been around since 2010, mostly behind the scenes, has stated it will not field a candidate if their platform does not gain traction or if it appears it would swing the vote in favor of one party, the group has been actively fundraising and is seeking to get on ballots across the country.
Maryanne Martini, a spokesperson for No Labels, released a statement praising Manchin as “a longtime ally” but declining to comment on his potential to run for president.
“Regarding our No Labels unity presidential ticket, we are gathering input from our members across the country to understand the kind of leaders they would like to see in the White House,” she said. “As we have said from the beginning, we will make a decision by early 2024 about whether we will nominate a unity presidential ticket and who will be on it.”
Opinion polls show dissatisfaction with the current leading White House candidates, both the incumbent Biden and the Republican frontrunner Trump.
Manchin’s decision to step down will also jeopardise Democrats’ narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate. Republicans hold the governor’s office and the rest of the congressional delegation in a state that Trump won by a wide margin over Biden in 2020. Manchin won his last election with just 49.6% of the vote, 0.3 percentage points ahead of his Republican rival, in 2018.
The US senator Steve Daines, the head of Republican senators’ campaign arm, said in a brief statement: “We like our odds in West Virginia.”
The state’s Republican governor, Jim Justice, has already launched a campaign for his party’s nomination for Senate. Justice was a Democrat when he was first elected governor in 2016, but a year into office he switched parties and went on to cruise to re-election, winning 65% of the vote in 2020. Trump has endorsed Justice.
Justice said on Thursday: “Senator Joe Manchin and I have not always agreed on policy and politics, but we’re both lifelong West Virginians who love this state beyond belief, and I respect and thank him for his many years of public service.”
Manchin’s departure will raise the stakes for Democrats in several other Senate races including in Republican-leaning Montana and Ohio and highly competitive Pennsylvania and Arizona.
Manchin, who took office in 2010, has been a key vote on every major piece of legislation of Biden’s tenure as a moderate representing an increasingly conservative state. His support was critical to the passage of Biden’s sweeping $1tn infrastructure law, one of the president’s key domestic accomplishments.
Together with the Arizona senator Kyrsten Sinema, who switched her registration to independent from Democrat in December, Manchin has secured major concessions and the scaling back of his party’s legislative goals, winning him applause from conservatives and condemnations from many fellow Democrats.
The pair stood together in protecting the Senate’s filibuster rule, which requires that 60 of the chamber’s 100 members agree on most legislation, in the face of intense opposition from their own party.
Manchin’s defence of the filibuster helped block Democrats’ hopes of passing bills to protect abortion rights after the supreme court last year overturned the 1973 Roe v Wade decision that had established the right nationwide.
Republican senators praised Manchin’s commitment to bipartisanship.
The Utah senator Mitt Romney, who is also not seeking re-election, wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter: “I will miss this American patriot in the Senate. But our friendship and our commitment to American values will not end.”
Source: The Guardian