West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D) says he is “thinking seriously” about leaving the Democratic Party and declaring himself an independent before the 2024 election, when he will have to decide whether to run for a fourth Senate term or wage a third-party bid for president.
Manchin, who earlier this year described himself as an independent Democrat, told West Virginia radio host Hoppy Kercheval on Thursday that the Democratic brand has “become so bad.”
“I’m thinking seriously. For me, I have to have peace of mind, basically. The brand has become so bad — the D brand and R brand. In West Virginia, the D brand because it’s [the] national brand. It’s not the Democrats in West Virginia, it’s the Democrats in Washington.
“You’ve heard me say a million times I’m not a Washington Democrat,” he said.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) arrives for a Senate Armed Services Committee nomination hearing for U.S. Air Force Gen. Charles Brown to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Tuesday, July 11, 2023.
Pressed by Kercheval, the host of “Talkline” on West Virginia Metro News, whether he’s really serious about becoming an independent, Manchin said, “I would think very seriously about that.”
“I’ve been thinking about that for quite some time. I haven’t made any decisions whatsoever on any of my political direction. I want to make sure that my voice is truly an independent voice,” he said. “When I do speak, I want to be able to speak honestly about basically the extremes of the Democrat and Republican Party that’s harming our nation.”
The senator’s flirtation with becoming an independent comes eight months after Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) announced her decision to leave the Democratic Party and register as an Independent.
Sinema said in December, “I’ve never fit neatly into any party box. I’ve never really tried. I don’t want to.”
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Manchin, however, said Thursday that he’s not ready to make an announcement about his future with the Democratic Party immediately, telling Kercheval: “When I get ready to make a decision, I’ll come see you.”
Manchin says he will decide at the end of the year whether to run for a fourth Senate term or run for president as a third-party candidate backed by No Labels, a bipartisan centrist group that plans to raise $70 million to put an independent, third-party candidate on the presidential ballot next year.
The senior senator from West Virginia faces a tough reelection race in a state that former President Trump carried with 68 percent of the vote in 2016 and 29 percent in 2020.
An East Carolina Center for Survey Research poll published in May showed Manchin trailing West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) by 22 percentage points in a hypothetical Senate race.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice delivers his annual State of the State address in the House Chambers at the West Virginia Capitol, Jan. 11, 2023, in Charleston, W.Va. The federal government filed a lawsuit on Tuesday, May 30, against coal mines owned by the family of Justice seeking payment of unpaid penalties for previous mining law violations. (AP Photo/Chris Jackson, File)
Justice is running for Manchin’s seat but first must defeat Rep. Alex Mooney (W.Va.) in the Republican primary.
Democratic strategist David Axelrod earlier this year speculated that Manchin may decide to run for president as “a graceful exit” from the Senate, instead of risking defeat in West Virginia.
But Manchin’s colleagues on both sides of the aisle have warned that if he runs for president in 2024, he will likely wind up helping Trump — who is leading the rest of the GOP presidential primary field by more than 30 points — win the general election.
“The No Labels effort would elect Donald Trump,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a prominent Trump critic, warned last month.
“I asked my chief strategist, ‘What would a candidate have to be like in order to draw [voters] from Donald Trump as opposed to drawing from Joe Biden?’ He said it would have to be someone to the right of Donald Trump,” Romney said.
Manchin on Thursday, however, disputed predictions that he would hurt Biden and help Trump if he ran for president.
“I don’t see that favoring either side, because you just can’t tell how this is going to break,” he said. “If come January and February of next year these are still the main contenders, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, that’s a whole other scenario.
“If they are not — and it could break between now and then — that changes the game completely,” he argued. “The bottom line is, ‘Will the middle speak up? Does the middle have a voice?’”
Manchin argued that “moderate, centrist Republicans” feel like “they don’t have a voice anymore” in a political landscape where Trump dominates Republican Party politics.
“And the Democratic Party that I grew up with was responsible, I said they’re socially compassionate and fiscally responsible, they’ve got nowhere to go,” he said. “So if we can create a movement, Hoppy, that people understand, we could have a voice.
“We could make a big, big splash, and maybe bring the traditional parties of the Democratic and Republican Party [to] what they used to be, back to what they should be today,” he said.
He declared both parties have “gone off the Richter scale.”
“I can’t accept either party, to be honest with you,” he said.