Oh my: Manchin might bail out of the Senate in 2020


Joe Manchin has spent enough time in Washington to know that, on second thought (with apologies to W.C. Fields), he’d rather be in Charleston. The former governor might choose to become the former senator from West Virginia and try to get his old job back next year, Manchin tells Politico. If Manchin bails out of the Senate, it could upend Democratic hopes of regaining control of the upper chamber in 2022:

The Democratic senator said in an interview Thursday that he’s once again “thinking about” running for the “best job in the world”: governor of West Virginia.

“I think about it every minute of every day. Now, thinking about it and doing it are two different things,” Manchin said. “I’ll make a decision this fall sometime. I don’t think there’s any hurry at all.”

This might be a rare moment in which a political development means bad news for both Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, although not in the long run. In the short short term, a decision by Manchin to run for governor in 2020 means nothing at all, since his Senate term runs through 2024, having won another term last November. If he loses, no biggie — he can keep his Senate seat. Manchin could choose to resign first, but that would give now-Republican governor Jim Justice the opportunity to flip the seat by appointment. So Manchin won’t be resigning unless he wins the governor’s seat … and has been sworn into it, too. He can then appoint a Democrat in his place.

If that happens, McConnell will lose the last of his Democratic moderates who occasionally provide a veneer of bipartisanship to conservative measures. Most of the other moderates got chased out, and the one remaining — Montana’s Jon Tester — has a grudge against Donald Trump. (He’s also got almost six years remaining too, so there isn’t much pressure to cooperate this session.) Manchin and Trump get along and do see eye to eye on a few issues, though, so a replacement Democrat with less independence from Schumer’s leadership complicates matters a bit for McConnell.

But only a bit, and even then only for a short time. By law, the seat would have to come up for a special election in the 2022 midterms to finish off the final two years. Manchin’s probably the last Democrat with enough standing in West Virginia to win a statewide election. Patrick Morrisey (no relation) will almost certainly try again to win the seat, and without Manchin running against him, should win it easily. That means that the Democratic advantage in 2022 will be narrower, and it might be just enough edge for the GOP to cling to a narrow majority.

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Will Manchin really leave the toniest club in America, though, knowing that (a) he’s safe and (b) he’s not responsible for running things? Politico’s Burgess Everett sees signals that he might, but at least one significant incentive to staying put:

Manchin flirted with running for governor in 2016 but ultimately decided against it. This time around he’ll also have to consider what’s best for his state: Manchin is now the ranking member of the Senate Energy Committee.

If Democrats take back the majority, he’d be chairman, with major sway over the agenda in 2021. Though Manchin proclaims “Washington sucks,” he’s also gained power in more than eight years in the Capitol.

That’s still an if, although Democrats will have an advantage in 2020 too. It’s mainly in safe Republican territory, although Arizona looks iffier and iffier, but Doug Jones has almost zero chance of holding his seat in Alabama. Manchin might figure that he can easily beat Justice and that he’d have more fun running the state than potentially getting stuck again in the Senate minority as Democrats blow an election by going The Full Socialist. A bird in the hand is worth two Schumers in the Senate, let’s say.

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