WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced on Thursday that he is running for the Senate, challenging Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in what will likely be one of the most hotly contested and closely watched Senate contests in the country.
“The nation needs us as Republicans to win,” said Justice.
Justice is a well-liked and wealthy coal magnate who is an ally to former President Donald Trump, and Republicans believe his campaign kickoff goes a long way toward retaking the Senate next year. Trump won the state by 39 percentage points in 2020, and the Mitch McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund recently commissioned a poll showing Justice is the strongest candidate against Manchin.
“Jim Justice is a proven winner whose record of creating jobs, cutting taxes, and fighting for conservative values has made him one of the most popular governors in the country,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Justice made his remarks this evening at The Greenbrier, his luxury resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. The ballroom where Justice gave his speech was plastered with black-and-white signs that his campaign put up advertising his talking points: “Conservative Values.” “Rock Solid Behind Second Amendment.” “Most Pro-Life Governor EVER.” “Charter Schools.” “Home School.”
In a campaign video played at the event, Justice’s team touted his support of Trump and painted him as a rock-ribbed conservative.
“Joe probably won’t run if I’m running,” Justice said to a smaller crowd outside the ballroom following the announcement. But he said that if Justice isn’t the GOP nominee, then Manchin will run and win.
Manchin has said he will not decide whether he will run for reelection until the end of the year. He has also left the door open to a presidential bid.
“I am laser focused on doing the job West Virginians elected me to do — lowering healthcare costs, protecting Social Security and Medicare, shoring up American energy security and getting our fiscal house in order,” Manchin said in a statement released Thursday. “But make no mistake, I will win any race I enter.”
The National Republican Senatorial Committee played an active role in recruiting Justice. With a 64 percent approval rating, Justice is the fifth-most popular governor in the country, according to a survey conducted last year by Morning Consult.
During his speech, Justice fed up red meat to the GOP base, bashing the slogan “defund the police,” denouncing abortion, and painting President Joe Biden as senile. He did not criticize Manchin. Alongside him the whole time was his famous bulldog “Babydog.”
There was a show of support at the announcement from Justice’s friends in the Senate. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.) was a featured speaker at the event, where she talked positively about Justice but declined to critique her fellow West Virginia senator. “This is about taking back the majority in the United States Senate,” she said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also appeared at The Greenbrier, pointing to the 2022 midterms that were disappointing for the GOP.
“We’re down one in West Virginia,” he told the crowd of a few hundred. “We need help in Washington. We need a winner. We need somebody who can win in a general election.”
In a brief interview after the campaign kickoff, Graham declined to predict whether Trump would endorse Justice. “I know he really likes the governor,” he said. “They had a terrific relationship.”
Democrats seem eager to see a messy primary. “West Virginia’s GOP Senate primary is going to be a nasty, messy and expensive fight,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesperson Amanda Sherman Baity, “and whichever candidate manages to hobble out of their intraparty battle will be damaged and out of step with the voters who will decide the general election.”
Read more from the original Politico publication.