Will he or won’t he? That’s the question that surrounds Joe Manchin, who in 2018 sounded as though that election campaign would be his last. How was he to know at that point that the West Virginia senator would essentially act as gatekeeper in the upper chamber?
And why would anyone retire at the pinnacle of their power and influence?
Joe Manchin strongly signaled in 2018 that his brutal reelection campaign that year was his last. Now, as he marshals the entire Senate in his centrist direction, he’s not so sure he’ll call it quits.
The West Virginia Democrat is steadily padding his campaign coffers, raising $1.6 million in the first six months this year and sitting on nearly $4 million for a potential race that wouldn’t occur for three years. His colleagues say he’s not acting like a senator in his last term, despite his famous assertion during his last campaign that Washington “sucks.”
That certainly hasn’t changed, but Manchin’s ability to manage it has. He has unprecedented veto power for a non-leadership senator over proposals and rule changes, and more importantly has built a small-but-important caucus of his colleagues to support him. If nothing else, Washington “sucks” a lot less for Manchin these days, if not for everyone else.
That explains why Manchin now plays coy about his ambitions in 2024:
And as the 50th Democratic vote, Manchin is charting a bipartisan course for the Senate alongside a like-minded band of moderates in both parties, not to mention serving alongside a president who shares his back-slapping and horse-trading DNA. Instead of sucking, Manchin now says Washington has “accomplished more than we have for the 10 years I’ve been here.”
“You never know. You don’t know. There’s always a chance, absolutely,” Manchin said in an interview. When it comes to a potential reelection campaign alongside a presidential race in 2024, Manchin said: “You better be prepared, that’s all I can say. And I’m being prepared.”
Manchin is preparing, but that doesn’t mean that Manchin will be in the same position as he is now. Much will depend on the midterms, the results of which will almost certainly change matters for Manchin. Unless the results are a wash that maintains the current 50/50 split, Manchin’s status will erode in the second half of Joe Biden’s term. If Republicans win back control of the Senate and take control of the House as expected, Manchin might be helpful in defusing filibuster attempts by the minority, although Chuck Schumer might decide to just let Joe Biden backstop Democrats with vetoes if necessary. If Democrats win outright control of the Senate, Manchin might still play the bipartisan card, but it will be to much less effect.
Either way, Manchin might have to rethink how he’ll run again in 2024. He only won the 2018 election by three points in a cycle where Democrats did very well overall. In 2020, Democrats lost every WV county in the presidential election, and have no Democrats in statewide offices except for Manchin. Voters in West Virginia might not see Manchin as a necessity by that time, given that they barely thought him necessary three years ago. His easiest path to another term would be to switch parties, but Manchin has categorically refused to do so. He passed on that option even when the incentives were greatest after the special elections in Georgia, and so there’s no reason to think he’d do it now.
Manchin’s doing a lot of fundraising, so he’s clearly preparing for another run. If the last two years of this term returns him to backbencher status, though, bet on Manchin taking a pass and looking again at the governor’s race — or retirement.