November 17, 2022
As West Virginia continues to trend more Republican with every election, Republican Rep. Alex Mooney could pose a threat to Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s seat in the U.S. Senate.
Manchin served as the 34th governor of West Virginia and has represented the state in the Senate since 2010. Even though the 75-year-old lawmaker has been involved in the state’s political system since the 1980s, 51-year-old Mooney plans to take advantage of West Virginia’s strong shift toward Republicans and the senator’s waning popularity when he challenges the Senate seat in 2024.
“No one believes Joe Manchin anymore,” Mooney said in a statement. “His words are sad attempts to cover his efforts to empower Joe Biden's liberal agenda. He literally handed Biden his biggest policy ‘win’ by supporting dramatic tax increases that will threaten the entire coal industry and the thousands of West Virginia jobs and communities it supports.”
Although Manchin won his 2010 special election by a comfortable 10-point margin and got re-elected in 2012 by a 24-point margin, he only narrowly beat his 2018 Republican challenger, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, by three points. Since that election, the state has shifted more Republican: support for Republicans in the U.S. House jumped about nine percentage points, support for Republicans in the state Senate jumped about 14 percentage points and support for Republicans in the state House of Delegates jumped about 18 percentage points.
Manchin used to be one of the most popular senators in the county among his constituents, but his support dropped significantly in October. In the first quarter of 2022, the senator’s approval rating was nearly 60%, but last month it dropped to just 42%. The poll came after Manchin voted in favor of the Inflation Reduction Act, which was a severely watered down version of Biden’s Build Back Better proposal. Critics noted that the bill would increase taxes on the coal industry and could be used to justify stricter coal regulations from the federal government.
Mooney won his House seat easily by defeating his Democratic challenger with about two-thirds of the electorate. As a member of the staunchly conservative Freedom Caucus, Mooney also comfortably defeated fellow incumbent Rep. David McKinley in the primary after redistricting forced the two into the same district. McKinley, who received an endorsement from Manchin, was known to be a more moderate lawmaker.
“Mooney didn’t have a strong challenger in this general election, so we can’t measure his strength based on that,” Marybeth Beller, a political science professor at Marshall University in Huntington, told The Center Square. “Rather, we need to look at the primary, when he bested a long-standing, well respected moderate who had represented the (former) first district for many years. He won handily, despite having two ethics investigations in the House which are on-going.”
With the election still two years away, Beller said the outcome is far too early to predict. A lot of factors could come into plan, she added, such as the popularity of former President Donald Trump if he secures the nomination to be the Republican presidential candidate in 2024, the state of the economy on election day, the popularity of the Democratic presidential nominee and federal abortion legislation.
“Given that the Senate is so close in the Democratic-Republican divide, Senator Manchin will need to work very hard to get Democrats and Independents to continue to support him,” Beller said. “West Virginians increased the numbers of Republican legislators in both houses, but overwhelmingly defeated all four of the Republican amendments on the ballot. We cannot therefore assume that voters will punch a straight party-line ticket, which will be in Senator Manchin’s favor.”
The Senate and presidential election will be Nov. 5 in 2024.