The West Virginia senator Joe Manchin is “thinking seriously” about abandoning the Democratic party to run as an independent for Congress or as a third-party candidate for president. “I’m thinking seriously,” Manchin, 75, told a West Virginia radio host on Thursday. “I have to have peace of mind, basically.
The brand has become so bad, the ‘D’ brand and ‘R’ brand. In West Virginia, the ‘D’ brand because it’s [the] national brand. It’s not the Democrats in West Virginia, it’s the Democrats in Washington.
“You’ve heard me say a million times I’m not a Washington Democrat.”
Over the past two years, Democrats and progressives have perhaps called Manchin a million names – “modern-day villain” among them – mainly because the fossil fuel-aligned senator has wielded tremendous power over domestic legislation including efforts to combat the climate crisis and protect voting rights.
Democrats hold the Senate by 51-49. Of those 51 senators, three – Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Angus King of Maine and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – are independents already.
Sinema became an independent last year. Her future looks in doubt, with a gathering challenge from the Democratic congressman Ruben Gallego. But Democrats fear what might happen if both Sinema and Gallego contest Sinema’s seat: a split vote handing a win to a Republican extremist, potentially Kari Lake.
In West Virginia, Manchin is a long way behind the current Republican governor, Jim Justice – himself a former Democrat – in polling regarding the Senate race next year.
Manchin was governor of West Virginia between 2005 and 2010, years in which the formerly Democratic state turned sharply right.
On Thursday, he told Hoppy Kercheval, host of Talkline on West Virginia Metro News: “I haven’t made any decisions whatsoever on any of my political direction. I want to make sure that my voice is truly an independent voice. When I do speak, I want to be able to speak honestly about basically the extremes of the Democrat and Republican party that’s harming our nation.”
Manchin could also run as an independent candidate for president, backed by the campaign group No Labels, an outcome feared and derided by pundits who think such an effort will split the vote and return Donald Trump to the White House.
Manchin has long flirted with No Labels. He told Kercheval: “When I get ready to make a decision, I’ll come see you. You just can’t tell how this is going to break. If come January and February of next year these are still the main contenders, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, that’s a whole other scenario.”
The president, 80, and his 77-year-old, 78-times charged rival are historically unpopular.
“If they are not” the candidates, Manchin said, “that changes the game completely. The bottom line is, ‘Will the middle speak up? Does the middle have a voice?’”
Saying “moderate, centrist Republicans” feel they “don’t have a voice anymore”, Manchin said “the Democratic party that I grew up with was … socially compassionate and fiscally responsible … so if we can create a movement that people understand, we could have a voice.
“We could make a big, big splash, and maybe bring the traditional parties … [back to] what they used to be.”