Senate Democrat Joe Manchin Says He will not Seek Reelection

Matt McClain/The Washington Post
Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va), seen here at a September hearing, made the announcement in a video on Thursday.

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) announced Thursday he would not seek reelection in 2024, setting back Democrats’ plans to hold onto their Senate majority in 2024 and raising their fears that he could get involved in the presidential race as a third-party candidate.

“After months of deliberation and long conversations with my family, I believe in my heart of hearts that I have accomplished what I set out to do for West Virginia,” Manchin said in a video posted to X. “I have made one of the toughest decisions of my life and decided that I will not be running for reelection to the United States Senate.”

Manchin, 76, had defied political gravity by holding onto his seat in a deeply red state but would have faced long odds against either Gov. Jim Justice or Rep. Alex Mooney (W.Va.), who are running in the GOP primary next year. The veteran politician had run the coal country state as governor, but West Virginia’s rightward turn in recent years had left him the only Democrat in statewide office.

Faced with what he knew would probably be the race of his life, Manchin was weighing retiring from politics altogether or running for president as a third-party candidate backed by the centrist group No Labels.

Manchin’s announcement video suggests he has not chosen the retirement path just yet, as he said he planned to travel the country to gauge “if there is an interest in creating a movement to mobilize the middle and bring Americans together.”

Democrats fear such a bid would hurt President Biden’s chances of reelection at a time when polls show him losing swing states to former president Donald Trump, and when several other candidates are also launching third-party runs.

Manchin spokeswoman Sam Runyon declined to comment on whether he planned to pursue a presidential run, and a No Labels spokeswoman said the group won’t decide until early 2024 about whether to nominate a ticket and who will be on it.

“The Senate will lose a great leader when he leaves, but we commend Senator Manchin for stepping up to lead a long overdue national conversation about solving America’s biggest challenges, including inflation, an insecure border, out-of-control debt and growing threats from abroad,” said No Labels spokeswoman Maryanne Martini.

Whatever Manchin decides to do next, his decision not to run for his seat sets back Democratic hopes for 2024, when they face a brutal map. The party enjoys a narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate right now, and must defend vulnerable incumbents in the red states of Montana and Ohio, as well as in purple states including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin. Overall, Democrats are defending 23 Senate seats compared to just 10 for Republicans. Manchin not running also frees up Republicans to redirect money they would have spent in West Virginia to other battleground states.

Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and other Democratic senators had been trying hard to persuade Manchin to run for Senate again in recent months, aware that he was their only chance of holding onto the seat. Democrats have clashed with Manchin in the past for blocking some of Biden’s climate agenda and refusing to get rid of the Senate’s filibuster rule to allow legislation to pass with a bare majority, and he’s said he sometimes feels like a stranger within the party.

“I have a ‘D’ by my name being how I was raised to the throwback of my grandfather who appreciated Roosevelt,” Manchin told The Washington Post last spring.

Polls suggested Manchin would struggle to beat Justice, a former Democrat and Manchin supporter who alienated the senator when he fired his wife, Gayle Manchin, as his education secretary several years ago.

“Senator Joe Manchin and I have not always agreed on policy and politics, but we’re both lifelong West Virginians who love this state beyond belief, and I respect and thank him for his many years of public service,” the Trump-endorsed Justice said in a statement.

Democrats said they had hopes of keeping their majority even without Manchin by flipping seats in Florida or Texas, states that voted for Donald Trump in 2020 and where Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and Rick Scott are up for reelection in 2024.

“Democrats have multiple pathways to protect and strengthen our Senate majority and are in a strong position to achieve this goal,” David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Democratic senators’ campaign arm, said in a statement. “In addition to defending our battle-tested incumbents, we’ve already expanded the battleground map to Texas and Florida, where formidable Democratic candidates are outraising unpopular Republican incumbents and the[Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee] is making investments to lay the groundwork for our campaigns’ victories.”

Manchin, whose state backed Trump by nearly 40 points in 2020, helped deliver Biden his signature legislative achievement last year, surprising both Democrats and Republicans by signing on to a climate, energy and prescription drug-pricing bill that the moderate named the Inflation Reduction Act after a lengthy blockade. Biden pointed to those joint accomplishments Thursday in a statement on Manchin’s announcement.

“From the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law – which is upgrading America’s aging infrastructure, to the PACT Act – which is making sure our veterans get the care they deserve, to the Inflation Reduction Act – which is strengthening our energy security and lowering prescription drug costs for our seniors, to the most meaningful gun safety legislation in three decades, we’ve made real progress,” Biden said of working with Manchin, adding he was “proud” of Manchin’s vote to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

The senator had long frustrated more liberal Democrats by championing fossil fuels and bucking Biden’s climate agenda, and extracted several concessions for the oil and gas industry in that legislation. Manchin chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which oversees energy development on public lands across the country, including oil drilling and mining. If Republicans regain control of the Senate in 2024, the chairmanship would probably go to Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), another staunch supporter of the fossil fuel industry from another coal-rich state.

While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) once publicly invited him to join the Republican Party and his more liberal colleagues considered him a headache, Manchin was also a fairly reliable vote for Biden-appointed judges and other nominees. He also built strong relationships across the aisle and with other centrist senators.

If Manchin were to explore a presidential campaign, it would come at a bad time for Biden, who has faced a rapidly shifting political landscape since October. The president faces a primary challenge from Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), who recruited the support of top advisers of two former Democratic presidential contenders Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. Academic Cornel West and attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr. have both launched independent runs. And 2016 candidate Jill Stein announced she will run as a Green Party candidate this week.

No Labels has so far acquired ballot access for 12 states, with a goal of achieving 27 states this year. The group plans a nominating convention in April in Dallas and its leaders say they will only move forward if there is a clear path to victory and a minimal chance of helping aid Trump’s reelection. The group has been working to develop a nominating process, with no date set for its announcement.

No decision has been made about whether a Republican or Democrat would top the No Labels ticket, according to people involved in the process, but some Democrats have been comforted by recent speculation that the group would prefer a Republican at the top, in part to minimize the risk of spoiling the election for Trump.

“We are very sad that [Manchin] is not running for Senate because no one else can win that seat,” said Matt Bennett, a vice president of the moderate Democratic group Third Way. “But we are not alarmed about him running for president because No Labels has said they want a Republican, and he is no one’s number two.”

A group of activists who expect to be involved in the No Labels nominating process, as volunteers or delegates, created a Draft Romney Manchin Committee on Wednesday, not knowing that Manchin would rule out running for reelection a day later, according to a person involved in the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations.

With an expected budget of $1 million, the group has three goals, this person said: to commission polling that encourages retiring Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Manchin to run as a ticket by showing a path to 270 electoral votes; to build the infrastructure for that campaign; and to help them win the No Labels nomination at the Dallas convention in April.

The effort is not affiliated with No Labels leadership or the two men, and the first polling will start soon in Arizona, the person said. The goal is to have Romney run as president and Manchin as vice president.

“They work well together. They know each other well,” the person said. “No Labels is the only path for this to happen right now.”

Romney’s office, however, ruled the possibility on Thursday.

“Senator Romney was not aware of this effort and he is not considering running for president on any ticket,” Liz Johnson, his chief of staff, said in a statement.