FILE - In this July 16, 2019, file photo, Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., shows an illustration of a Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet, top, and China's Shenyang J-31 Stealth Fighter jet, bottom, as he questions Secretary of the Army and Secretary of Defense nominee Mark Esper on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

Sen. Manchin says he won't run for West Virginia governor

September 03, 2019 - 9:41 am

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin announced Tuesday that he's staying put in the U.S. Senate and won't run for governor, clearing the way for other Democrats to enter the race.

Manchin's decision ends months of speculation on whether the 72-year-old moderate Democrat would return to his deep-red home state to challenge incumbent Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican who has closely allied himself with President Trump.

In a statement, Manchin said he had to consider "where I could be the most effective for the Mountain State."

"Ultimately, I believe my role as U.S. senator allows me to position our state for success for the rest of this century," he said, pledging to work on energy legislation and steer federal dollars to West Virginia.

Earlier this year, Manchin became the top Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee, giving the coal-state lawmaker a prominent position to shape policy. Yet, Manchin has been vocal about his frustrations with the Senate, criticizing a lack of productivity and bipartisanship.

Manchin, who was West Virginia's governor from 2005 to 2010 until he left for the Senate, publicly considered going home to run again for governor in the 2016 election. Before his announcement Tuesday, he was widely seen as the Democrats' best option for reclaiming control of a state that has fallen hard for Trump.

Stateside Democrats were pressuring Manchin to make up his mind. More than a dozen state senators questioned Manchin at a closed-door meeting this spring, warning him that his indecision was creating a dilemma for other Democrats while giving Trump and the Republicans time to assemble behind Justice, said Sen. Roman Prezioso, the Democratic leader of the GOP-majority state Senate.

But Manchin stayed mum, telling lawmakers he needed more time to talk things over with his family.

"Joe Manchin carries enough strength that he kind of froze everyone until he made his decision," state Sen. Michael J. Romano said Tuesday, adding that several Democrats will now seriously consider a run for governor.

Manchin has sparred with Justice, who was elected governor as a Democrat in 2016, then switched to the Republican Party less than a year later. Manchin had endorsed Justice for governor.

Justice, who has made fixing neglected state roads a priority, had shifted blame for some of the road problems to Manchin and former Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. Justice said the pair "created what I would call the all-time motherlode of a dog's mess."

Manchin replied that "knowing Jim Justice's character, it's not a surprise for him to make a comment like this. He blames others for the work he hasn't done."

Manchin also was critical of the state's $37 million settlement with the drug distributor McKesson in a lawsuit accusing the company of shipping millions of suspicious painkiller orders to West Virginia as the state was being ravaged by the opioid epidemic.

Justice and Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced the settlement in May. Manchin called it a "sweetheart deal" for McKesson.

Manchin also took Justice to task for refusing to live at the governor's mansion in Charleston, instead residing at his home in Lewisburg.

Manchin was elected governor in 2004 and re-elected in 2008 before winning a special election in the Senate following the June 2010 death of Robert C. Byrd. Manchin won a second six-year term in the Senate last November, defeating Morrisey.