Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, a centrist Catholic, won’t seek reelection

shutterstock_1888235584_1.jpg Sen. Joe Manchin. | Credit: Vasilis Asvestas/Shutterstock

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, the last centrist Catholic Democrat in the U.S. Senate, announced Thursday he isn’t running for reelection next year. 

“I have made one of the toughest decisions of my life and decided that I will not be running for reelection to the United States Senate. But what I will be doing is traveling the country and speaking out to see if there is an interest in creating a movement to mobilize the middle and bring Americans together,” Manchin, 76, said in a video posted Thursday afternoon on X (formerly Twitter). 

Manchin’s remarks in the four-minute-plus video included some of the hallmarks of a campaign speech, including references to hot-button issues and appeals to the middle. 

“Every incentive in Washington is designed to make our politics extreme. The growing divide between Democrats and Republicans is paralyzing Congress and worsening our nation’s problems. The majority of Americans are just plain worn out,” Manchin said. 

He added later: “I know our country isn’t as divided as Washington wants us to believe.” 

He also ticked off domestic campaign issues, including inflation, crime, the national debt, and what he called “the border crisis.” 

“Our economy is not working for many Americans, from the rising cost of food and fuel, and everything in between,” Manchin said. 

He also alluded to foreign policy, referring to Ukraine and Israel without mentioning them by name. 

“We are providing critical aid to two of our allies fighting wars for their survival, and we must prevent being pulled into a major war ourselves,” Manchin said. 

Presidential ambitions?

On July 17, Manchin spoke at an event in New Hampshire sponsored by No Labels, a centrist organization that has expressed interest in supporting a third candidate for president if the major parties nominate Joe Biden and Donald Trump next year.

A political scientist told CNA on Thursday that Manchin could have an effect on the presidential election if he runs, though he is unlikely to win.

“Should he run as a No Labels candidate he would draw votes away from both Biden and Trump making the race difficult to call. I don't think he has the name recognition or the organization to be a front runner, but he certainly would be a spoiler,” said Michael Kryzanek, professor emeritus of political science at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts, by email.

Kryzanek noted that American voters are polarized, but that many on both sides “want change and more youthful leadership.”

At 76, Manchin isn’t a youthful option. But he may be able to tap into frustration with the two major political parties.

“This is a difficult time for those running for national office. Americans do not trust politicians and are angry at the state of the nation,” Kryzanek said. 

Effect on Congress 

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Manchin’s decision to leave the U.S. Senate may hurt the Democrats’ chances of keeping it in 2024. 

Democrats currently control the Senate by a margin of 51-49 — which includes three independents who caucus with the Democrats. 

Manchin was facing a tough campaign for a third term. An October poll found him 13 points behind a likely Republican challenger in right-leaning West Virginia. 

But Manchin was far from a write-off next year. He weathered the Donald Trump storm in 2018, winning reelection by three points in the state that voted more lopsidedly for Trump in 2016 than any other. 

“This is not good news for the Democrats,” Kryzanek said, noting “even though he was a thorn in the side of progressives and an unsure vote on many Democrat issues, especially on climate change, he did support some of Biden's agenda.”

“With a current 51-49 split in the Senate a Republican pickup would make for a significant problem for the Democrats, forcing them to flip a seat somewhere else. The Democrats are already in trouble in states like Montana and Nevada so there is real concern over his decision even if he was an unreliable vote for Biden,” Kryzanek said of Manchin.

Kennedy Democrat 

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Manchin is a remnant of a type of politician who used to be common in national politics — the Democratic centrist with an immigrant family history who identifies strongly with the Catholic Church. 

In the video announcement Thursday, Manchin described an argument he had with his father when he first told him he wanted to run for office. 

His father thought of politics as a dirty business, but Manchin won him over by quoting the most famous sentence from President John F. Kennedy’s 1960 inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” 

“My family were devoted Catholics who immigrated from Italy and Czechoslovakia. So to us, President Kennedy was held in the highest regard. And I knew President Kennedy’s words would sway my dad,” Manchin said in the video. 

This article was updated on Fri., Nov. 10, 2023.

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