Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Manchin Likely to Face Justice

No, not the kind many Democratic voters might like to see. Gov. Jim Justice (R-WV) is term-limited and has expressed interest in running against Sen. Joe Manchin (R-WV) in 2024. Now Senate Republicans believe that he is in. He would be 73 when inaugurated if he jumps in and wins, so he clearly is never going to achieve much power, but he probably loves all the fawning attention he is getting from the Senate Republicans. Of course, if Justice wins, he will be a junior backbencher from a backward and impoverished state and nobody will care about him anymore, but right now, all the attention probably feels great.

Justice originally won election as governor as a Democrat but switched teams once in office. That was kind of sneaky because he had been registered as a Republican until just before announcing his run as a Democrat. Then when in office, he reverted to being a Republican. He is quite popular and would be the toughest opponent Manchin has ever had. In one recent poll from the Tarrance Group, a Republican outfit, Justice is leading Manchin 52-42. Manchin pooh-poohed the poll. We don't know of any independent polling of a Manchin-Justice race yet.

Given how red West Virginia is, in principle Justice ought to win, except for a couple of things. First, Manchin has already won six statewide elections in the state. He is no newbie and is as well known as Justice. Second, Manchin's ace in the hole is his seniority. He has been in the Senate for 13 years and is currently chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Whether coal is a natural resource is a matter of some debate, but it does fall under the jurisdiction of Manchin's committee. If Justice wins and the Republicans capture the Senate, the new chairman will be Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), not Justice. While Barasso is pro-mining, he is not pro-West Virginia, as Manchin is. For a poor and unimportant state like West Virginia, an argument that giving up real power to get a slightly purer ideological fit might be a bad idea for the state.

If Justice indeed runs, this will become the toughest seat for the Democrats to hold. If Justice wins, then Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Jon Tester (D-MT) must both win in order for the Democrats to have a chance to hold onto 50 Senate seats. Holding these will be challenging, but far from impossible, as each of them has already won three Senate races in their respective states. In addition, to get to 50 without Manchin, Democrats will also have to win the complicated three-way race in Arizona. That could be tough as well, although if Kari Lake gets the GOP nomination, some Republican voters may decide to vote for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) or the Democratic nominee, probably Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ). In other words, losing West Virginia doesn't mean the Democrats will drop under 50 seats, but the stars really have to align for them to get 50 without West Virginia. Flipping a Republican seat would require a massive blue wave given the brutal map. That would take something like Ron DeSantis getting the Republican presidential nomination and Donald Trump either running as an independent or ordering his supporters to not vote. (V)

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