Joe Manchin Becomes ‘Independent’

The Democratic gadfly is performatively 'leaving' the party.

WaPo (“Manchin changes party registration to independent, fueling speculation“):

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia announced Friday that he has changed his party registration to independent, fueling speculation he could run for office again in November after announcing his retirement last year.

“My commitment to do everything I can to bring our country together has led me to register as an independent with no party affiliation,” Manchin wrote on X.

Manchin did not immediately say anything about his political plans. But the move allows him to possibly reconsider his plan to not seek reelection — or to run for governor, a job he previously held.

Aug. 1 is the deadline for independent candidates to file for office in West Virginia. Manchin was facing a Saturday deadline to register as an independent and still have a chance to file as an independent candidate this election.

The centrist senator announced in November 2023 that he would not run for another term, handing Republicans a likely pickup seat in solidly red West Virginia. The GOP nominee for the seat is the state’s governor, Jim Justice.

For months, Manchin flirted with running for president as an independent or third-party candidate, worrying Democrats who anticipated a close rematch between President Biden and former president Donald Trump. But Manchin announced in February that he would “not be involved in a presidential run” this year.

Speculation has picked up in recent weeks that Manchin may be mulling a return to the governor’s office, though he reportedly said this week he would not enter the race. He said he is supporting the Democratic nominee, Steve Williams.

If Manchin decides to run for Senate again, he could have a fighting chance in a race that otherwise favors the GOP. CNN reported in March that Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has talked with Manchin about running for reelection as an independent. At the time, Manchin said he did not expect to do so.

Democrats face a tough map as they try to preserve their narrow Senate majority in November, largely playing defense in states that Trump has carried.

Manchin joins three other members of the Senate who identify as independents: Sens. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), Angus King (Maine) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), who each caucus with Democrats. A Manchin spokesperson said he will continue to caucus with Democrats.

POLITICO (“Manchin registering as independent in West Virginia“) adds:

Manchin previously announced he would not run for reelection, a move that essentially ceded his seat to Republicans. But Democrats have held out hope he’d make a last-minute decision to run as an independent, and Friday’s move is sure to increase pressure on him to do so. Gov. Jim Justice, a Manchin rival, won the GOP primary and is heavily favored in November.

State Republicans are divided after a fierce primary in the governor’s race, which Attorney General Patrick Morrisey won. Manchin defeated Morrisey in the 2018 Senate race. Manchin is friends with the Democratic nominee Steve Williams, but he would likely be a more viable general election candidate.

[…]

West Virginia is one of the most conservative states in the nation, so either bid would be challenging for Manchin. But running as an independent would be easier than running as a Democrat in the deep-red state. And Manchin is a talented retail politician who has won both offices in the past.

I tend to find Senators who label themselves as “Independent” but caucus with one of the two major parties performative. Substantively, there’s no difference.

Politically, though, the move makes sense for Manchin if indeed aspires to another elective office in West Virginia. While the rational voter would assess him on his long history as a policymaker, there are those who simply will not vote for a politician, regardless of his demonstrated record in office, who calls himself a “Democrat.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. DK says:

    We did it, Joe!

    Manchin for WV 2024.

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  2. wr says:

    So now “independent” means “slave to the whims of the oil and coal businesses and multi-billionaires.” Always good to take a new look at old words!

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  3. DrDaveT says:

    So now “independent” means “slave to the whims of the oil and coal businesses and multi-billionaires.”

    Seen on a dog collar in the 18th century: “I am His Majesty’s dog at Kew. Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?”

    If he’ll vote against the fascists most of the time, I’ll hold my nose and live with the rest. “Liberal senator from West Virginia” isn’t on the menu this week, or next.

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  4. DK says:

    @DrDaveT: Manchin definitely deserves the critique…after November 5. I don’t believe in bashing the best available candidate in their election year. I can take a break.

    I hope Manchin runs, wins, and caucuses with Democrats. Then let the criticism recommence.

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  5. Joe says:

    @DrDaveT: As my old pal Bob Dylan used to say, “you’ve got to serve somebody. It may be the devil or it may be the lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

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  6. Lounsbury says:

    Insofar as any post he might aim for will to my understanding be held otherwise by the opposition, I fail to see why one complain.

    Such réaction does show I think how deeply the Two Teams tribalism in unconscious réflexion runs. Unless the Democratic party pivots from the discourse and framing of the urban Uni educated Left, it seems quite unlikely one is competitive in such a geography dominated by a voting socio economic profile once solidly D from history but now being captured by the R.

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