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Manchin Passing on 2020 Governor Run to Stay in Senate

Emily Allen
West Virginia Public Broadcasting
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin held a press conference on Tuesday, Sept. 3, to elaborate on his decision not to run for governor.

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said Tuesday he will not run for governor. The announcement came after months of speculation as to whether he’d join the race. 

“I made the decision I made for many, many reasons,” Manchin said at a press conference in Charleston Tuesday afternoon. “When it came down to it, I had to make a decision where I thought I would have the most impact, and continue to have an impact, as far as for West Virginia.”

Had he run and won, it wouldn’t have been Manchin’s first time in the governor’s mansion. Manchin was governor from 2005 to 2010, when he left a second term early after winning a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Earlier in his political career, Manchin served in the West Virginia House of Delegates, the state Senate and as Secretary of State. Manchin said Tuesday his time as governor was “the best job I ever had.”

One of the main reasons he decided to remain in the Senate, Manchin said, was his position as ranking member and top Democrat in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

“There’s a lot that’s going to be happening in the world of energy in the next few years,” Manchin said. “Being a ranking member, that means I get to set policy, I get to make sure that West Virginia’s not left out.”

When asked about his plans to address climate change, Manchin addressed the problem’s existence and human impact, but condemned policies “eliminating” the use of coal and nonrenewable resources. 

“That’s not the real world,” Manchin said. “It’s not reality.” 

He added the U.S. has the potential to incentivize other countries that emit more greenhouse gas emissions, like China, to burn energy more cleanly and to use more renewable resources. A 2018 analysis for the Union for Concerned Scientists found while China emitted more carbon dioxide in 2015, the U.S. emitted more greenhouse gas emissions on a per-capita basis. 

Manchin’s decision not to run for West Virginia governor comes at a time when Democrats nationally are hoping to flip that chamber. But Manchin is also one of the most regular Democrats to break from party lines. Propublica has reported 32.6% of his votes so far have been against his party. He described his decision Tuesday to stay in the Senate as one to better serve moderate America. 

“There’s nobody trying to find the middle,” Manchin said. “Everybody’s going to the sides, if you will, for the extremes.” 

When asked who Manchin might endorse for governor, he said he anticipates a more announcements soon, leading to a “very exciting, interesting primary,” for both parties. 

Current Gov. Jim Justice and former state Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher are both running on the Republican ticket. 

“I fully committed to my campaign in April, and I respect Sen. Manchin’s decision, because it is not an easy one,” Thrasher said in a written statement Tuesday afternoon. “One thing our senior U.S. Senator and I agree on is the need for a change in the executive branch. Things are not on the right track. Sen. Manchin and I both believe this is a full-time job for a person our state can be proud of, with an honorable reputation, who puts the state’s best interests first.”

So far, the only Democratic candidate in the governor’s race is Stephen Smith, a progressive former community organizer. Smith announced his campaign in 2018. On Monday, he said there are more than 50 other candidates in West Virginia for various state races running “with” him as a part of the West Virginia Can’t Wait movement, in which candidates pledge against using corporate money in their campaigns.

“Of course, we’d welcome Sen. Manchin’s support, and any other statewide or national politician, but the way this campaign’s going to be won is from the bottom up,” Smith said Tuesday. 

The last candidate Manchin endorsed for governor was Justice in 2016, when the billionaire businessman ran as a Democrat. Justice switched parties at a Trump rally in 2017.

Both Justice and Manchin have since publicly made negative remarks regarding the other, and some reports before Tuesday speculated Manchin would run as “payback.” 

Manchin didn’t mention Justice during his press conference. Justice’s office shared a statement regarding Manchin’s announcement shortly before the senator’s press conference.

"We have West Virginia back on the right track but there are still a lot of people hurting and there's a lot of work to do,” Justice said. “I will continue to bring people together from both parties, including working with Senator Manchin, to ensure a bright future for all West Virginians.”

Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member. Senior reporter Dave Mistich contributed to this story. 

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