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Manchin Deals (Slight) Blow to Democratic Senate Hopes

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has been dithering when it comes to his future plans. Yesterday, however, he let the cat out of the bag: He's going to retire from the U.S. Senate.

Obviously, this makes it rather unlikely that the Democrats will be able to hold on to that seat. And we mean "rather unlikely" in the same sense as in "it's rather unlikely the U.S. will be building a wall along the Canadian border, no matter what Vivek Ramaswamy wants" (see below for more). The only declared Democrat in the race, at least at the moment, is Zachary Shrewsbury, who is a political organizer and a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. Undoubtedly, he's a fine candidate, but West Virginia went for Donald Trump by 36 points in 2020. The eventual Republican nominee, whether it's Gov. Jim Justice or Rep. Alex Mooney, would have to get themselves in a massive scandal for Shrewsbury or any other Democrat not named Manchin to have even a puncher's chance.

With that said, we'd say Manchin's decision is somewhere between "neutral" and "good news" for the Democratic Party. Yes, the blue team would like to have a viable candidate for the seat, but Manchin's past victories don't actually mean he's viable now. He won a close victory, 49.6% to 46.3%, in his last campaign, and West Virginia is 6 years redder and more Trumpy. He's alienated ballot-splitting Republicans with some of his votes, including for the infrastructure bill (despite the fact that it lavishes money on West Virginia), and polls have consistently shown Manchin running 10-20 points behind Justice, who will almost certainly be the GOP nominee. The Senator very probably wasn't going to hold the seat anyhow, and now the Democrats can invest their resources in other places.

And that, in turn, brings us to the six seats that are going to matter most in 2024. With West Virginia gone, the Democrats either need to lose zero seats and hold the White House, or else gain one seat if they lose the presidency. This is in addition to gaining one seat for any Democratic-held seat they lose. The seats currently held by Democrats, or by people who caucus with the Democrats, that are in most danger of being flipped are Ohio, Montana, Arizona and Nevada, probably in that order. Each of them presents different challenges, but they're certainly all winnable, particularly if abortion provides some wind at the Democrats' backs. We are, of course, aware that the Democratic-held seats in Pennsylvania and Michigan are at risk, but if either of those go, then there's no chance the most endangered quartet all end up as holds.

Meanwhile, there are two Republican seats that could become insurance policies against Democratic losses: the ones held by Rick Scott (FL) and Ted Cruz (TX). Cruz is obnoxious and has drawn a strong opponent in Rep. Collin Allred (D), but we're not willing to buy that the seat is in serious danger until we see some hard polling data much closer to the election.

The Florida seat, by contrast, is much more interesting. Scott is also obnoxious, and his margin of victory when he first won election to the Senate was 0.13%. He won his two gubernatorial elections by 1.07% and 1.15%. In short, he's not very popular. Meanwhile, he's staunchly anti-choice... in Florida. We've noted, a couple of times, that since Dobbs, abortions are way up in many states, with Illinois taking the lead (+21,500 in the first year after Dobbs, as compared to the last year before Dobbs). But a close second on that list is... Florida, which was +20,460. If there was any senator at risk of losing their job in 2024 due to anti-choice views, it would seem to be Scott.

In any event, Manchin's retirement is not nearly the bad news for Democrats that the retirement of Sherrod Brown (OH) or Jon Tester (MT) would have been. They also have "maybe the only Democrat who can win" status, but in states where they are much likelier to hold on than Manchin was.

What could be bad news for Democrats is if Manchin's retirement is prelude to a presidential run, either as an independent or as the No Labels candidate. And in his retirement announcement, he said that while he's not going to stand for reelection, "[W]hat 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." Our guess is that if Manchin did declare, he would be more likely to attract reluctant Biden voters than reluctant Trump voters.

That said, we find it hard to believe Manchin would waste the time and energy involved in a hopeless run for the White House, particularly if such an effort was likely to hurt Biden. But maybe the Senator has a bee in his bonnet for one reason or another, and he's willing to burn the house down to make a point. He tends to take his sweet time when making decisions, and third-party candidates don't have to worry about primaries and caucuses, so it could be a while until we know what the final chapter of his career holds. (Z)

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