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Why Republicans are optimistic about flipping Joe Manchin’s seat

Given the circumstances, don’t be surprised if West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice starts measuring the drapes in Sen. Joe Manchin’s office before November.

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Ahead of Election Day 2022, Republicans were optimistic about their chances of taking back the U.S. Senate. The GOP only needed a net gain of one seat, and the party saw plenty of opportunities to pull it off. Sen. Rick Scott, the then-chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, boasted that his party had a path to a majority with 55 seats.

That obviously didn’t happen. In fact, defying historical trends, Republicans managed to lose ground in the midterm elections, going from 50 to 49 seats.

In the 2024 elections, GOP officials are feeling even better about their chances, for one important reason: Incumbent Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin is retiring in West Virginia, and a relatively popular GOP governor just won a primary to succeed him. The New York Times reported:

Jim Justice, the second-term governor of West Virginia, won the Republican primary for Senate on Tuesday, according to The Associated Press, positioning him to win the seat being vacated by Senator Joe Manchin III, a Democrat, and flip it to the G.O.P. Mr. Justice, a coal and hospitality tycoon known for his pet bulldog and his companies’ prodigious debts, defeated six other candidates for the nomination.

Rep. Alex Mooney ran a credible race, and targeted the governor from the right, but the results were nevertheless lopsided: Justice won the multi-candidate primary race with roughly 62% support, outpacing Mooney by more than 35 points.

At face value, the results set up a general election in which Justice will face off against Glenn Elliott, the Democratic mayor of Wheeling, who won a multi-candidate primary of his own.

But for all intents and purposes, the moment Manchin announced that he wouldn’t seek re-election, observers in both parties began working from the assumption that the senator had cleared the way for Republicans to flip his seat from “blue” to “red.” (Even if Manchin had tried to win another term, his odds of success weren’t great.)

Ask officials from either party about the Senate landscape, and you’re likely to hear explanations for why the GOP’s advantage is so undeniable. Not only is every Senate Republican incumbent favored to win in November, Democrats are having to fight tooth and nail to hold onto competitive seats in Montana, Ohio, Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Maryland.

But while voters in each of these states should expect to see an avalanche of advertising between now and November, few if any campaign entities are reserving air time in West Virginia.

This might've been a Democratic stronghold a generation ago — Bill Clinton carried West Virginia by double digits in the 1990s, and even Michael Dukakis won the state in 1988 — but those days are long gone.

To be sure, Justice’s record is not without difficulties, but given the governor’s strong backing in the state, coupled with the fact that he’ll be sharing a ballot with Donald Trump (who carried West Virginia by 39 points in 2020), don’t be surprised if Justice starts measuring the drapes in Manchin’s office before November.