WASHINGTON, April 27 (Reuters) – West Virginia Governor Jim Justice launched his campaign on Thursday for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate who has been a constant thorn in his party’s side.

Justice, 72, has repeatedly changed parties, most recently in 2017 when he switched his registration to Republican after being elected as a Democrat in 2016. Justice was reelected as a Republican in 2020.

Manchin, 75, is expected to face a tough campaign for a third six-year term in a state that then-President Donald Trump won by a wide 69% to 30% over Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.

Holding the seat will be critical for Democrats’ hopes of protecting their narrow 51-49 control of the Senate in 2024, when they will also be defending seats in Republican-leaning Montana and Ohio and highly competitive Pennsylvania and Arizona.

Manchin has been a key vote on every major piece of legislation of Biden’s tenure, as a moderate representing an increasingly conservative state. His support was critical to passage of Biden’s sweeping $1 trillion infrastructure law, one of the president’s key domestic accomplishments.

In recent months Manchin has repeatedly slammed the White House for its interpretation of the major climate and tax bill he helped pass last summer, decrying the administration’s moves to enact climate-related portions of the bill, such as electric vehicle tax credits.

Manchin has not publicly declared whether he will run for reelection in 2024.

Justice, a coal-mining billionaire, would first need to win a Republican primary against U.S. Representative Alex Mooney to become his party’s nominee to challenge Manchin in 2024.

The governor is a strong supporter of Trump, stating in 2017 that the then-president had “a backbone. … He cares about us in West Virginia.”

Reporting by Kanishka Singh and Moira Warburton; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis
Kanishka Singh

Thomson Reuters

Kanishka Singh is a breaking news reporter for Reuters in Washington DC, who primarily covers US politics and national affairs in his current role. His past breaking news coverage has spanned across a range of topics like the Black Lives Matter movement; the US elections; the 2021 Capitol riots and their follow up probes; the Brexit deal; US-China trade tensions; the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan; the COVID-19 pandemic; and a 2019 Supreme Court verdict on a religious dispute site in his native India.