Justice strongest candidate against Manchin, GOP poll says
Republicans are coming to an increasingly popular consensus: Gov. Jim Justice is by far the best candidate to take on Joe Manchin.
In fact, the two-term governor and Democrat-turned-Republican is the only potential challenger who would currently beat the centrist Democratic senator, according to a new GOP poll gaming out the race. While Justice leads Manchin handily, according to the survey, Manchin has big leads over Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.) — the only Republican officially in the race — and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who ran against Manchin in 2018 and is mulling another bid.
“The data from this study shows that, across every single metric, Governor Jim Justice is far and away the strongest Republican candidate in the U.S. Senate race in West Virginia, and the only tested potential candidate who currently leads Joe Manchin on a trial ballot test,” said the survey from the Tarrance Group.
The poll was commissioned by the Senate Leadership Fund, the top GOP super PAC with close ties to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Justice has not decided to enter the race yet, though he's said he that is “leaning” toward a bid. Manchin similarly has not decided whether he will run for reelection and has indicated he’s in no rush to decide.
“Senator Manchin continues to consider the best way he can serve his state and country. But make no mistake, he will win whatever race he enters,” said Sam Runyon, a spokesperson for Manchin.
Justice has near-universal name ID in West Virginia, according to the poll, and would start with an early lead in a potential three-way primary among Morrisey and Mooney. The survey shows Justice with 53 percentage points in the primary, Morrisey with 21 percent and Mooney with 16 percent. The poll was taken in early February and has a 4.1 percentage point margin of error.
Morrisey won the GOP primary in 2018, defeating former Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.) and erratic coal businessman Don Blankenship. Mooney has not run statewide in West Virginia before but did win a hotly contested House primary against Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) last year. And Justice has prevailed in two governor races, first as Democrat and then as a Republican. He now has high approval ratings — something Manchin once enjoyed as governor as well.
And in a race against Manchin, Justice leads 52-42, according to the poll, while the Democrat leads Mooney in a potential head-to-head 55-40 and Morrisey 52-42. Manchin defeated Morrisey by about 3 points in 2018.
The West Virginia Senate race is expected to once again be a marquee race in 2024 after Manchin held on in 2018, with Republicans seeing it as a prime pick-up opportunity and Democrats looking to defend every seat they have amid a tough map in 2024. But Mooney is still the only one officially in the race, with Manchin, Justice and Morrisey all still weighing their options. Justice has indicated he will make a decision soon.