By Jim Ellis
May 11, 2017 — Though West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D) purports to be in strong political position for his impending 2018 re-election campaign, he is beginning to draw a cluster of Republican opponents.
At the beginning of the week, two-term US Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-Huntington) declared his intention to run for the Senate and launched his effort with a video announcement that takes Sen. Manchin to task (see video above).
Next week, Rep. David McKinley (R-Wheeling) said he will announce his intentions with regard to the Senate race, though up until a few days ago he had not even been mentioned as a potential candidate. The congressman is still not expected to enter the race, however. On the other hand, it is a virtual certainty that two-term GOP Attorney General Patrick Morrisey will soon make official his budding US Senate candidacy.
Rep. Jenkins is already drawing the battle lines between he and Sen. Manchin. In his video announcement, the congressman accuses the state’s senior senator of turning his back on West Virginia, and “changing when he went to Washington.”
Jenkins says Manchin “broke his promise” to protect the 2nd Amendment, and then goes a step further in saying that the incumbent “violated our values and pushed gun control with Barack Obama and the New York liberals.” He then attacks Manchin for his Planned Parenthood stance, and finishes by saying “he [Manchin] has become one of them.”
But the congressman’s attacks about Manchin supporting President Obama could reverberate against Jenkins in a Republican primary. In fact, Jenkins first ran for Congress three years ago, which was the first time he appeared on the ballot as a Republican. Previously, he served 18 years in the West Virginia House of Delegates and State Senate, all as a Democrat, and supported Obama at least for the 2008 general election, not becoming a Republican until 2013. Therefore, Jenkins will likely have a difficult time adopting this line of attack against Manchin when having to defend himself against the very same political charge during the Republican primary.
While Sen. Manchin has strong favorability ratings, the state moving solidly to the right largely as a result of energy policies promulgated by then-Vice President Al Gore (D) and all the way through the Obama Administration plays as a major negative against him.
President Trump racked up 69 percent of the West Virginia vote in the November election, his second-best state behind only Wyoming. The electorate overwhelmingly supporting Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R), and in choosing Republicans for all three US House districts, West Virginia is becoming as strong a GOP stalwart in federal elections as it was for Democrats up until the beginning of the century. These kinds of statistics make the Mountain State a top 2018 GOP conversion target even while featuring a popular Democratic incumbent. Looking at the strength of the challenger field, we are guaranteed to see an interesting race.
There is one more reason that Jenkins may have decided to take his statewide shot now, however, even after serving what will be only two terms in the House. After the 2020 census, West Virginia is a near certainty to drop from three congressional districts to two. With Jenkins’ southern part of the state not keeping up with the north in population growth, it is clear that his district will be changed in major ways when the three seats are reduced to a pair. Looking at the coming prominent races for the next decade, this may well be the congressman’s best chance to make a successful statewide run.