CHARLESTON — Sen. Joe Manchin is opting out of a run for West Virginia’s governor.
After talking for months about the possibility of running for the chief executive’s seat he occupied from 2004 to 2010, Manchin acknowledged today that he will not run. His announcement came by way of email.
“I have always said that ‘public service is not self-service.’ So, when considering whether to run for governor, I couldn’t focus just on which job I enjoyed the most, but on where I could be the most effective for the Mountain State,” Manchin stated.
“Ultimately, I believe my role as U.S. Senator allows me to position our state for success for the rest of this century.”
What the decision came down to, Manchin said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” is the ability to push for important issues in the Senate.
“I just got re-elected, and I’m fighting like the dickens on some things I really feel strongly about, including miners’ pensions,” he said.
Over the paste few weeks, Manchin has said he sometimes leaned one way in the morning and another way later.
“It’s hard. It weighs on you,” Manchin said today on “Talkline.”
But, he said, “I’m in a position now to help the governor no matter who they may be.”
Democratic candidate Stephen Smith, a community organizer, has already raised $146,000, according to the most recent state campaign reports.
Smith today said Manchin’s decision does not change his campaign’s strategy. He pointed to his campaign’s theme, “West Virginia Can’t Wait,” to describe a movement.
“It doesn’t change our strategy. What the state needed yesterday was the same thing we needed yesterday, which is a movement, not a savior,” Smith said in a telephone interview after Manchin’s announcement.
“Never has one politician won the kind of change we desperately need. Jim Justice wasn’t going to do it, Joe Manchin wasn’t going to do it, I’m not going to do it. What we need is a movement.”
Smith pointed toward 114 town halls and 39 constituency teams as his campaign’s group effort.
“Our folks have been building a people’s political machine all across the state,” he said. “That work is the same today as it was yesterday.”
Justice faces Republican primary challenges from former state Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher and former state Delegate Michael Folk.
Manchin was just re-elected to a six-year term to the U.S. Senate in 2018. His time in the Senate started with the special election that followed the death of longtime Senator Robert C. Byrd.
Manchin supported Justice in the 2016 Democratic primary and general election for governor.
But seven months after Justice was elected, he said there was nothing more he could do as a Democrat and changed his registration to Republican.
Over the past months, Manchin and Justice have traded barbs. Justice has often blamed prior administrations, including Manchin’s, for the condition of West Virginia’s highways.
Manchin has been publicly critical of Justice’s work habits. His statement today seemed to reflect to that sentiment.
“Those who know me know how much I loved being the Governor of West Virginia. I worked the daylights out of that job. I couldn’t wait to wake up in the Governor’s Mansion in the morning, and I didn’t want to go to bed at night, because there was always more that I could do for our state,” he stated today.
“And that is what it takes to be an effective Governor: relentless effort.”
A Dominion Post MetroNews West Virginia Poll released last week showedthat if Manchin were to get into the race he would start with a sizable lead over Justice.
In a theoretical head-to-head matchup, 49 percent of respondents said they would vote for Manchin while 39 percent said they would vote for Justice. The final 12 percent said they are not sure.
The same poll showed Manchin’s popularity on the rise from the prior year.
The West Virginia Poll shows that Manchin has 49 percent overall approval and 37 percent overall disapproval. The rest aren’t sure.
Last year, Manchin was at 43 percent approval.
Justice has a overall approval of 42 percent, according to the poll. He has overall disapproval of 40 percent. The rest say they are not sure.
Those numbers are about the same as this time last year.
Both West Virginia and Washington, D.C., were watching today’s decision with interest.
CBS News was among the media outlets looking ahead to the announcement.