Democrats Scramble To Stop Joe Manchin From Running Against Biden

West Virginia senator has flirted with third-party presidential bid

Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.V.)
June 21, 2023

West Virginia senator Joe Manchin's Democratic colleagues are scrambling to stop him from mounting a presidential bid against party-mate Joe Biden, calling the prospect of a challenge from the high-profile senator a "terrible idea" that would only help Republicans.

Manchin has flirted with a third-party presidential bid, an endeavor that self-described centrist group No Labels—which has pledged to spend $70 million on a third-party candidate in 2024 but has yet to reveal its most recent financial figures—could fund. For Manchin's Senate Democratic colleagues, the idea is a full-blown disaster. Sen. John Hickenlooper (D., Colo.), for example, told Politico he "advised [Manchin] against" a third-party presidential run, which he called a "terrible idea" that would "help Donald Trump." Manchin remained coy in response—he merely "looked at me and nodded," Hickenlooper told Politico.

Manchin's political indecisiveness comes as the senator approaches a difficult reelection bid in 2024, which could see him face off against West Virginia's popular governor, Republican Jim Justice. Manchin has so far declined to commit to a reelection bid and says he's in "no hurry" to determine his political future, which, in addition to a presidential bid, could see the Democrat run to replace Justice as governor, a position he held from 2005 to 2010.

Senate Democrats are, for now, taking Manchin's White House ambitions seriously. Sen. Gary Peters (D., Mich.) told Politico Manchin is "still thinking" about running for president, while Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) said "you never know about Joe." Should Manchin run for president, those lawmakers and others say, Republicans would likely win West Virginia's Senate race in 2024 and could even take the White House. Still, that argument has not moved Manchin, who questioned the notion that a third-party presidential run would help the GOP.

"Everybody's getting so worked up and scared to death, and we're a year and a half away," Manchin said. "I don't rule out anything. There's a tremendous concern about our country and the direction the country is going in. That's all."

As Manchin approaches a potential reelection bid, the Democrat has worked to position himself as a critic of President Joe Biden's spending. Manchin's criticism, however, is centered on the Democrats' Inflation Reduction Act, which Manchin himself named and orchestrated. Manchin heaped praise on the bill as recently as February, saying he did not regret voting for it "at all."

"The Inflation Reduction Act will be the most transformative bill that we've ever had in the United States, in Congress, as far as I've been here," he said.

Manchin's Inflation Reduction Act support has already brought the Democrat political headaches. A spending group aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), has already spent millions on ads dinging Manchin for his work on the bill, which the group says "could cost West Virginia 100,000 fossil fuel jobs."

Should Manchin square off against Justice next November, he may be in trouble. Forty-three percent of likely general election voters back Justice, compared with just 29 percent who back Manchin, according to a National Journal poll released in May.