West Virginia Incumbent: Joe Manchin (D-WV)
Republicans look poised to pick off a Democratic Senate seat come 2018 in West Virginia. Trump carried West Virginia with 68% of the vote in 2016. Jim Justice, the state’s governor changed his party registration from the Democratic Party to the GOP at a Trump rally in Huntington, West Virginia back in early August.
Today I will tell you with lots of prayers and lots of thinking,” Justice said to an enthusiastic crowd of Trump supporters. “I can’t help you anymore being a Democrat governor. So tomorrow I will be changing my registration to Republican.”
West Virginia Republican Representative Evan Jenkins has announced that he will run against the senator in 2018.
Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) says he’ll challenge Manchin for 2018 in Senate, attacks his work on gun background checks. https://t.co/Y3k76sXNl5
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) May 8, 2017
To make matters worse for Manchin, he now is facing a primary challenger. Paula Swearengin, a coal miner’s daughter, and environmental activist, plans to run for the senator’s West Virginia seat in the 2018 Democratic primary election. As the Democratic base moves further left, Incumbent Senator Joe Manchin finds himself in a troubling situation.
Swearengin has the backing of Brand New Congress, a group formed by former Bernie Sanders campaign staffers and volunteers to support primary opponents against Democrats and Republicans in 2018. She also has the support of Justice Democrats, a group whose mission statement is to run “congressional campaigns that lead to a progressive and un-bought congress in 2018” and WeWillReplaceYou.org, a group that says it is “dedicated to challenging establishment Democrats unwilling to resist Trump’s agenda.”
The primary challenge highlights a central tension in the Democratic Party as it seeks to rebrand itself after its 2016 presidential election loss that had party elites scratching their heads. Manchin’s defenders argue that he’s not only an invaluable member of the party but the kind of lawmaker who can offer lessons to other Democrats hoping to win in red states.
A primary challenge against Manchin could divide Democratic voters in West Virginia, and leave the senator more vulnerable to a general election challenge, even if he prevails in the primary. If Republicans play their cards right and run a solid campaign, they have a good chance of picking up a Senate seat.