CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin announced Tuesday he will not run for governor, ending speculation on whether the moderate Democrat would challenge a Trump-backed incumbent in his deep-red home state.
Manchin said his decision to stay put in the U.S. Senate came after months of reflection and boiled down to “where I could be the most effective for the Mountain State.”
“Ultimately, I believe my role as U.S. senator allows me to position our state for success for the rest of this century,” he said in a statement, pledging to work on energy legislation and steer federal dollars to West Virginia from his perch on the appropriations committee.
The 72-year-old senator previously served as governor from 2005 to 2010, calling it the greatest honor of his life, before leaving for the Senate.
He very publicly considered running for governor again in 2016, but instead endorsed current-Gov. Jim Justice, who ran as a Democrat but changed parties in front of a roaring Trump rally crowd less than a year after taking office. Manchin was widely seen as the Democrats’ best option for reclaiming the governorship of a state Trump carried by 42 percentage points in 2016.
He became the top Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee earlier this year, giving the coal-state lawmaker a prominent position to shape policy. But he has been vocal about his frustrations with the Senate, criticizing a lack of productivity and bipartisanship. In a campaign ad last year, he proclaimed that “Washington sucks.”
At a news conference Tuesday in West Virginia’s capital city, Manchin said he had made his final decision Monday during a conversation with his wife.
“I’m at peace, I’m at ease with this,” he said.
West Virginia Democrats had been pressuring Manchin to make up his mind.
More than a dozen state senators questioned Manchin at a closed-door meeting this spring, warning him that his indecision was preventing other Democrats from jumping in while giving Trump and the Republicans time to assemble behind Justice, said Sen. Roman Prezioso, the Democratic leader of the GOP-majority state Senate.
But Manchin stayed mum, telling lawmakers he needed more time to talk things over with his family.
“Joe Manchin carries enough strength that he kind of froze everyone until he made his decision,” state Sen. Michael J. Romano said Tuesday, adding that several Democrats will now seriously consider a run for governor.
As Manchin contemplated running, he added fuel to the rumor mill by wasting little opportunity to publicly spar with Justice.
The two went back and forth over who was responsible for the state’s neglected roads. Justice called Manchin “one of those loud Washington liberals” who hasn’t embraced Trump. Manchin issued a stinging statement as Justice was cheering a $37 million settlement with an opioid distributor, saying the governor didn’t care enough to fight for more money.
Justice, a billionaire whose businesses have been dogged by lawsuits alleging unpaid bills, has staffed up his 2020 campaign with current and former Trump officials.
Manchin narrowly won his second full term in the Senate last November, edging out an opponent backed by Trump by just over 3% after the president held rallies in the state. The victory was a far cry from the 24% beating he put on his challenger in 2012.
Speaking to reporters about his decision, Manchin leaned heavily on his seniority in the Senate and how he thinks he can accomplish more for the state from his post in Washington.
“I get to make sure West Virginia is not left out,” he said.