Sen. Joe Manchin leaves the Democratic Party and registers as independent

Sen. Joe Manchin leaves the Democratic Party and registers as independent

Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, speaks during an interview at an Economic Club of Washington event in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021.

Ting Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who has spent his entire decadeslong political career as a Democrat, said Friday he is leaving the party and registering as an independent, raising speculation about whether he may run for another Senate term or for governor this fall.

“To stay true to myself and remain committed to put country before party, I have decided to register as an independent with no party affiliation and continue to fight for America’s sensible majority,” Manchin said in a statement.

Manchin’s move was first reported by longtime West Virginia radio host Hoppy Kercheval.

Last November, Manchin announced he would not seek a third term in 2024.

The deadline for an independent to register to run for office in West Virginia this year is Aug. 1, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Manchin, 76, served as West Virginia governor from 2005 to 2010, when he won a special election to fill a Senate seat left vacant by the death of legendary Democrat Robert Byrd. Manchin won a full Senate term in 2012 and a second term in 2018. 

But he won that race over Republican state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey by a little more than 20,000 votes, or 3 percentage points, as the state shifted ruby red, propelled by Donald Trump’s rise in 2016. In 2020, Trump captured nearly 70% of the vote in West Virginia.

Earlier this month, current Gov. Jim Justice, backed by Trump, won the Republican nomination for Senate and had been favored to succeed Manchin in the fall. But Manchin’s surprise move could scramble that race if he decides to run for re-election as an independent.

A more likely scenario is that Manchin seeks his old job as governor —  a potential race that would pit him in a rematch with the GOP nominee, Morrisey, as well as against the Democratic nominee, Huntington Mayor Steve Williams.

If he is considering an independent bid for either office, Manchin had until June 1 to change his party affiliation; West Virginia state law allows the secretary of state to refuse to certify a candidate if they were registered to vote with a different party within 60 days of filing to run for office.

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