Today Patrick Morrisey, West Virginia’s state attorney general, will announce that he’s running for U.S. Senate in 2018, hoping to take on Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin. The race, in a state that President Trump won last year with almost 69 percent of the vote, represents one of the Republicans’ best chances for a pickup in next year’s midterm elections.
Morrissey’s decision, which he will announce at 5 p.m. in Harper’s Ferry today, also sets up a high-profile GOP Senate primary battle between Morrisey and Congressman Evan Jenkins. Bo Copley, a laid-off coal miner who told Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign that miners “don’t see you as a friend,” has also announced a bid.
Morrisey is fresh off a successful reelection campaign in 2016, winning 52 percent to 42 percent, and his boosters are quick to point out he outperformed the Republican gubernatorial candidate. Over the past five years, Morrisey’s built a reputation as one of the state attorney generals most eager to take on the Obama administration in court. His most consequential victory came in a 5–4 decision at the Supreme Court, delaying enforcement of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan until lower courts reviewed legal challenges to the new regulations. The case was a decisive setback for President Obama’s signature environmental initiative, which used an “aggressive” interpretation of the EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act in an effort to control greenhouse-gas emissions.
A pro-Morrisey super PAC, The 35th PAC, has already begun laying the groundwork of criticism of Jenkins. In the primary, Morrisey is likely to attack Jenkins as a Democrat who merely changed parties to reflect the changing current of the state’s politics. From 1994 to 2013, Jenkins served in the state legislator as a Democrat, he
supported Hillary Clinton for president in 2008 (UPDATE: Jenkins only attended a Hillary Clinton town hall in 2007, and there is no public record of him explicitly supporting Clinton; he says he voted for McCain in 2008; full details can be found here), and he and his campaign committee donated $2,000 to Manchin that year.
For now, the incumbent Manchin is scoffing at Republicans’ attempt to tie him to more liberal Democrats like Hillary Clinton; he points out that his GOP foe, John Raese, attempted to tie him to Barack Obama in 2010 and 2012. He voted for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch and most of the Trump cabinet, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
But there’s some evidence to support the notion that Manchin has drifted left with his party in recent years. He sponsored background check legislation for gun sales with GOP Sen. Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania in 2013, meaning Manchin is unlikely to enjoy the endorsement of the NRA like he did in previous elections.
He opposed the so-called “travel ban” of immigration restrictions proposed by the Trump administration and voted against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Manchin voted for Obamacare, says he wants to “improve and repair” Obamacare, and has not yet seen a GOP plan he willing to support.