EDITOR’S NOTE: The full interviews with Governor Jim Justice and Larry Sabato with the University of Virginia are included towards the bottom of this story.
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (DC News Now) — Republican Gov. Jim Justice said he’s strongly considering jumping into the 2024 U.S. Senate race for the chance to face incumbent Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.
The upcoming elections could decide which party controls that government body.
In an interview with DC News Now this week, Justice — with his disarming drawl and a constant eye on “Babydog” his English Bulldog — sounded a lot like a candidate who is running in a showdown of epic proportions given what’s at stake and the millions that will be spent to win and defend the seat.
When asked if his decision would change if Manchin decided not to run, Justice said, “no, of course not.”
“I believe wholeheartedly that — tomorrow if I run and Joe Manchin’s running, I’m the senator,” Justice declared. “I believe that with all in me.”
If Justice makes it past the primary, his target would be Manchin, the longtime conservative Democrat in a state that experts say is increasingly turning more red.
“I am saying to you one thing: Patriot. That’s the only reason that I would run for Senate, the only reason in the world,” the governor said. “Because I truly believe that I can make a difference and I truly believe my heart is in the right spot.”
Justice, who is 71 years old and 6’7, said he has bad knees and as “you get older and everything,” it’s more difficult to get around. Manchin, who hasn’t announced whether he’s running for another term, is 75.
“But I do love our people, and I do love America, and I’ve done a pretty good job at what I’m doing right now,” Justice added.
Larry Sabato, the founder and director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said the potential race would have national implications.
“I would call it highly, highly competitive. In fact, it would be one of three opportunities for the Republicans to gain a seat,” Sabato said. “The other two being Ohio and Montana, also with Democratic incumbents in states that have moved to the right.”
Given the Republican tailwinds in West Virginia, Sabato said that Manchin faces a tall order in a state that former President Donald Trump won twice. He said the senator struggled in his last election bid four years ago.
“If anything, Joe Manchin has the highest mountain to climb,” he said. “It’s Mount Everest because West Virginia has moved solidly to the Republicans. So Republicans would undoubtedly drown West Virginia in money and Manchin has already collected millions of dollars for the race.”
Justice, who won the governorship in 2016 as a Democrat but switched to the GOP months later, said he’s not a fan of the President Joe Biden administration. “Look what we did in Afghanistan. Look what we’re doing with inflation. Look what we’re doing at the border?” he said.
“I really feel like… our government is in semi-danger today,” Justice added.
The governor said he doesn’t need the adulation. It’s about helping the nation and taking the country in a different direction, he said.
“And from that standpoint, it seems like this is something I ought to do,” Justice said.