West Virginia’s Democratic Governor To Switch Parties
The Democratic Governor of West Virginia is switching parties:
WASHINGTON — Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia, a Democrat who was elected last year even as President Trump carried the state by 42 points, is expected to announce Thursday night at a rally with Mr. Trump that he is changing parties, according to three sources familiar with the plans.
Speaking to reporters in the White House Thursday, Mr. Trump promised “a very big announcement” at a gathering in Huntington, W.V., that is expected to draw thousands of supporters from across Appalachia, a region that gave Mr. Trump some of the largest margins of his election.
Mr. Justice, a billionaire coal and real estate magnate, ran as a conservative Democrat and declined to endorse Hillary Clinton in 2016. But even as West Virginia has become a reliable Republican state in presidential elections and further down the ballot, a handful of Democrats have still been able to win office.
Mr. Justice, though, is said to have friendly relationships with some members of Mr. Trump’s family. And before entering politics he gave money to officeholders in both parties while variously registering as a Republican, Democrat and independent.
Mr. Justice’s decision to change parties will further isolate Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat and himself a former governor. Mr. Manchin has resisted the entreaties of Republicans to change parties and add to the two-seat Senate majority. Some Trump administration officials, eyeing Mr. Manchin’s seat, also had hoped to put him in the cabinet, but he has declined all overtures. Now he must stand for re-election in 2018 without the help of a friendly governor.
“Joe Manchin has been and always will be a proud West Virginia Democrat,” said Jonathan Kott, Mr. Manchin’s communications director.
Justice was elected Governor just last November and defeated his Republican opponent by roughly 49,000 votes, but he received less than a majority of the votes cast due in no small part to the presence of candidates from the Libertarian Party and a party calling itself the Mountain Party , who together grabbed roughly 8% of the total votes cast.
To a large degree, the decision by Governor Justice to switch parties is a reflection of the extent to which that state has gone from being a reliably Democratic state to a reliably Republican one. On the Presidential level, no Democrat has won the state since Bill Clinton’s re-election in 1996, and last year Trump ended up defeating Hillary Clinton there by more than 300,000 votes. In 2014, Republican Senator Shelly Moore Capito defeated her Democratic opponent by roughly 120,000 votes to become the first Republican Senator to represent the state since 1958. Additionally, there has been speculation that the state’s senior Senator, Joe Manchin, could switch parties, or at least become the Senate’s third Independent alongside Bernie Sanders and Angus King. Manchin remains immensely popular back home notwithstanding his party affiliation, so the pressure on him to disassociate from the Democratic Party may be somewhat diminished. However, with the Governor becoming a Republican that could lead Manchin to decide to seek re-election in 2018 as an Independent rather than a Democrat.