The 2024 Senate map was already very favorable for Republicans. There are 34 Senate seats that will be contested in 2024 and 23 are held by Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents.
The most competitive races will be the three “toss-up” seats that give the Republicans the best shot at winning and taking over the Senate. Ohio, Arizona, and West Virginia are all held by Democratic incumbents — Sherrod Brown, Kyrsten Sinema, and Joe Manchin — but give Republicans the competitive edge. Ohio and West Virginia were won by Donald Trump in 2020, and Sinema is not even sure she’s going to run after having left the Democratic Party.
Manchin, too, is hesitating. And Republican dreams of taking that seat from the West Virginia icon got a huge lift when popular current Governor Jim Justice said he may be ready to announce his bid for the Senate.
Whether Justice’s decision to enter the race would cause the 75-year-old Manchin to forgo his own run is unknown. What we do know is that Joe Manchin would be a formidable candidate. He’s the most popular politician in state history and has never backed down from a fight. Just ask Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has had several run-ins with Manchin — and lost.
As for Justice, Republicans are salivating at the prospect of taking Manchin’s seat.
“The governor has a good political sense. So I am assuming that he’s going to get in,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). “It would change things. He has a huge approval rating, he just passed the biggest tax cut in state history. He’s got a lot of good things to talk about.”
But Justice’s plans, not to mention Republicans’ confidence that he puts them in striking distance of picking up a Democrat-held seat, doesn’t faze the incumbent one “iota.” Manchin reiterated in an interview that he won’t decide whether he’ll run until the end of the year, describing himself as content to watch his rivals spar from afar — for a few months, at least.
“God bless them, it’ll be entertaining to watch their primary. That’s the greatest thing,” Manchin said.
One reason the GOP is excited about a Justice-Manchin fight is the party’s dismal record at recruiting popular GOP governors to run for the Senate in 2022. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, Doug Ducey of Arizona, and Larry Hogan of Maryland were all proven state-wide vote-getters who decided not to run against vulnerable Democratic incumbents.
Related: Kyrsten Sinema’s Messy Breakup With the Democrats Is Complete
But Justice is seen by some in the MAGA movement as a squish.
Should he jump in, he’d immediately help Republicans solidify their path to a majority which runs through Ohio, Montana and West Virginia. They need to net two seats to take back the majority, regardless of the outcome of the presidential race.
Still, a Justice win isn’t straightforward. He’ll have to navigate Republican primary waters in his state that are already choppy thanks to Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.), whom former President Donald Trump and the Club for Growth backed in a hotly contested House GOP primary last year.
The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC closely aligned with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, commissioned a poll showing Justice as the only candidate who can beat Manchin. And one complicating factor is Manchin’s endorsement of two moderate Republicans — Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins.
Other Democrats are taking the news of Justice running in stride.
“If every time a candidate like Jim Justice got in a race and we said, ‘oh my God forget about it’, we wouldn’t have 51″ seats, said Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), a campaign arm vice chair.