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.


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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. James Pearce says:

    Mr. Justice, a billionaire coal and real estate magnate, ran as a conservative Democrat and declined to endorse Hillary Clinton in 2016.

    Have seen stuff saying Justice was a Republican until 2015, when he became a Dem.

    Sounds like he’s going home.

  2. M. Bouffant says:

    Water finds its own level. In this case, probably in the bottom of a flooded mine shaft.

  3. reid says:

    The Republican and Trump stocks are just soaring these days, who in their right mind wouldn’t latch onto them? *eye rolls*

    On the other hand, how much Republican idiocy does it take to wake people up? I don’t want to know the answer, I’m afraid. I’m sure he’s just accurately reading the tea leaves regarding WV voters.

  4. Gustopher says:

    From Wikipedia:

    In 2009, he sold some of his coal business to the Russian company Mechel for $568 million. In 2015, after a huge drop in the price of coal which led Mechel to close some of the mines, he bought the business back for just $5 million

    He does seem like a good Trumpsky. He used to be a Republican and he is a Repubilcan again. It’s kind of remarkable how frequently you scratch the surface of Republican Patriots and discover Russian connections.

    I mean, am I freaky weird in not having Russian connections? Is it just a commonplace thing?

  5. de stijl says:

    Russians are not stupid.

    And as a general rule, folks who end up in the government / oligarchy sphere are both intelligent and quite well educated. Those that survive are savvy and cautious and know who is Boss.

    They chose Rs in general and Trump in particular because it was an easy entry into destabilization of America. Rs had already self-identified as Republican over American.

    It’s the up-shot of Gingrichism. The 1994 mid-terms altered the post war balance in American politics.

    For true hard-core Cold War believers, the post-Soviet era misdirected nationalist patriotism into believing that since we had no worthy foreign enemy, then we must direct our disordered antipathy to our internal political opposition – they are the biggest threat.

    Then during the Cheney era we saw that Rs would use 9/11 primarily as a wedge issue rather than a foreign policy / military matter to be resolved. Casting their internal opposition as enemies, traitors, and pussies was more important than any military goal.

    Afghanistan was a feel-good sideshow, but Iraq was the hammer: and a push-over, wrapped up in weeks and would ensure a “permanent” R majority because it will secure their FP bona fides for generations.

    Then there is the alt-right which sees Russia under Putin as the savior of the West. With “the West” being oddly defined as white and “Christian” and European even though Russians are remarkably genetically diverse and Russian Orthodoxy is alien to most Americans and their country is predominantly Asian geographically.

    And then now we have a situation where the Russians have kompromat on Trump. And his team decided to just roll with that, and when he won the test of the Rs just rolled with it some more because Democrats are worse than Russians..

  6. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Nice to see Trump living up to his campaign promise to the voters of WV: “I pledge to flip fellow millionaires who are elected in your state on one party name to the other. Forget the coal jobs; this is how I will MAGA!!!!!”

  7. de stijl says:


    Why are Trump surrogates so fascinated by the “fact” that Trump has not been told that he is not the focus of an investigation?

    Trump has apparently been told 3 or 8 or a eleven billionty times that he was not under investigation and it it is held up as some sort of “gotcha” shield.

    That has been a persistent talking point since March. Is it salient? Is it BS? Why is it bandied about as a magical talisman?

  8. de stijl says:

    To be clearer:

    Why do surrogates keep mentioning that Trump has explicitly been told n times (as they assert) that he is *not* the focus of an investigation?

    It seems like I’m missing something.

  9. wr says:

    You don’t usually see rats jumping onto a sinking ship…

  10. Kylopod says:

    Thomas Frank should retitle his 2005 book, What’s the Matter with West Virginia? One of the poorest states in the country, it’s tied with Kentucky for having seen the largest increase in health coverage since the passage of Obamacare. Yet it gave Trump nearly 70% of the vote, his largest victory. And this isn’t a purely a Trump phenomenon, as the state has been trending steadily Republican over the past two decades: after Bill Clinton handily won the state twice, it went to the Republican nominee by 52% in 2000, 56% in 2004 and 2008, and 62% in 2012. Trump’s 68.5% last year is impressive, but it didn’t come out of nowhere.

    The same pattern holds for Kentucky. Clinton also won that state twice, and (with the exception of McCain) each Republican nominee since then has done better than the previous one, with Trump winning more than 62% of the vote last November.

    Earlier this year, Vox interviewed some Obamacare enrollees in Kentucky who had voted for Trump, asking them how they justified their support for a man who had pledged to repeal a program they valued, even sometimes depended upon. They answered basically that they didn’t believe Trump was serious about repealing it, and that they thought he’d improve it.

    In the case of both Kentucky and West Virginia, the real culprit isn’t abortion or other social issues, it’s coal. The coal industry views the Democratic Party’s embrace of environmentalism and the push for alternative energy as a threat. It’s an attitude that even Democrats elected in those states pander to: anyone remember Joe Manchin’s 2010 ad in which he literally shoots cap-and-trade with a gun?

    And, of course, Trump pledged to bring back industrial jobs, so naturally they’d flock to him.

    I wonder if these voters realize he’s already broken several of his promises to them. He’s walked back most of his anti-trade rhetoric. He pledged to protect the social safety net, yet he just pushed a bill that would have stripped Medicaid from millions.

    I wonder if these voters ever will realize how royally they’ve been screwed and continue to be screwed by the people they vote for.

  11. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Actually, Kylopod, the culprit isn’t even coal. It’s stupidity – the one natural resource America is overly-blessed with and that we will apparently never run out of. We pompously lecture the rest of the world on the glories of the free market – and never seem to understand it ourselves. We grew up believing that we would always be prosperous because we were Americans and that if we weren’t, it was someone else’s fault. We didn’t need no damn educatin’, that was for pencil necked geeks – who all went off to Silicon Valley and created jobs in developing world countries. We pour money into stupid things like sports stadiums, the football industry from high school to palliative care, and Karl Rove’s career, but don’t talk to us about guaranteeing health care so people can leave places with no jobs to find work in other locations – which other countries do. Being stupid is a sign of our goddamn God-given exceptionalism and any minute now alternative reality will kick in and so there!

  12. de stijl says:


    R = Russia

    That seems to be the goal.

  13. al-Alameda says:

    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.

    I wonder what Democrats can do to keep closet Republicans like Justice in the Democratic Party?

    Wait, I know the answer: Wait for Trump-voting West Virginians to start voting Democratic again.

    Adios coal magnate.

  14. de stijl says:


    Trump was just quoted as saying that the Super Bad-Ass Dirty Messican Wall Of Bad Hombre Preventionism was a ruse, a gambit, and a throw-away nothing line of shite for the rubes that we’re dumb enough to vote for him.

    They will not abandon him for this.

    On some level they knew it was BS; they had to. They’re ignorant, yes. But you’d have to be willfully obtuse to not see the implied asterisk in Trump’s schtick. They knew and they approved.

    Make ’em own it.