Dem 51
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Let the Senatorial Games Begin, Part I: Justice for West Virginia

Jim Justice, the term-limited Republican governor, that is. He has now announced that he will run for the Senate in 2024. This was expected and indeed, it happened.

Justice was elected governor of West Virginia as a Democrat, but later switched to the GOP. He is a coal billionaire and the richest person in the state. He will also be 73 on Election Day and given that it takes 15-20 years to achieve any real power in the Senate, one might ask whether Justice doesn't have anything better to do. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, but Justice would be approaching 90 before he got a shot at that position.

Despite all his money and his name recognition in the state after being governor since Jan. 2017, Justice is no shoo-in for even the Republican nomination, let alone the Senate seat. Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WV) is also running for the nomination and is backed by the Club for Growth, which has promised to put in at least $10 million for his campaign. The CfG considers Justice to be a RINO and Mooney to be a Real Republican™. West Virginia is a cheap media state and if Mooney ads show 10 times a night, it doesn't really help Justice much if his ads show 40 times a night. The primary is expected to be brutal in a state Donald Trump has won twice by 40 points. His endorsement could matter. Here is a negative ad the CfG is running against Justice.

Manchin shouldn't be counted out, especially if Trump endorses Mooney and the Republican primary is really nasty. Manchin won in 2018, only 2 years after Trump carried the state by 40 points. However, he hasn't said what he is going to do. He could (1) run for reelection, (2) run for governor again, or (3) retire. He has said he won't even announce until December. Nevertheless, he is wasting no time bashing the clean energy part of the Inflation Reduction Act that he voted for. Supporting clean energy would be fatal for him and he knows that. He even said he would vote to repeal the bill, which he had a major hand in writing.

One factor that could matter in the Republican primary is that West Virginia is a semi-closed state. Democrats can't vote in the Republican primary and vice versa, but independents can vote in either one. For historical reasons, many West Virginians are registered as Democrats and many of them support Justice. However, unless they formally change their party registration, they won't be allowed to vote in the Republican primary. This could hurt Justice significantly.

If Justice promises to give everyone in the state a lifetime supply of coal if he is elected to the Senate and wins, the Democrats will be in a very precarious position. They will have to win every other Senate race, including difficult races in Montana and Ohio, just to hold 50 seats. It will take a fairly strong blue wave to pull that off. Of course, if the presidential race is Biden vs. Trump, that could well happen. There is no Republican seat up in 2024 where the Democrats have a strong chance of knocking off a Republican. The easiest ones are Texas (more below) and Florida. That ought to say something. (V)

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