Republican Rep. Alex Mooney on Tuesday announced that he would challenge Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who has not yet said if he’ll seek re-election in what’s become a dark red state, a move that underscores that the 2024 Senate cycle is already underway whether we like it or not.
Mooney is the first major challenger in the nation to kick off a Senate campaign, but his head start may not clear the primary field. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who lost to Manchin 50-46 in 2018, said last week he was “looking very closely at” a rematch. However, he responded to Mooney’s kickoff by acknowledging that he’d also been encouraged to run for governor, for Mooney’s open 2nd District, and for re-election in addition to the Senate, and that he would “give all of these options appropriate and due consideration.”
Gov. Jim Justice, who will be termed-out in 2024, also didn’t rule out a challenge to his one-time ally Manchin, saying, “I guess it’s possible ... Who knows?" Justice, who defected from the Democratic Party to the GOP at a 2017 Trump rally, reiterated last week, “I do love the people of West Virginia, and I am looking really, really, really hard at some kind of national office. Who knows.”
Manchin, for his part, responded to Mooney’s kickoff, “I haven't made a complete decision as of yet … I've never made a decision based on any opposition.” The senator may keep us guessing for quite some time if history is any guide: While he announced in July of 2017 he’d be seeking re-election, his fellow Democrats had to scramble to deter him from a last-minute retirement the following January. Trump took the Mountain State 69-30, and Manchin is almost certainly the one Democrat who would stand any chance here.
Mooney, for his part, has been talked about as a likely Manchin foe for years, and the senator made an unsuccessful attempt to beat him in this May’s primary. West Virginia lost one of its three House seats after the 2020 Census, and Mooney and fellow Rep. David McKinley both slugged it out in the new 2nd District in the northern half of the state.
Trump and the deep-pocketed Club for Growth both consolidated behind Mooney while Manchin starred in a commercial imploring Republicans to renominate McKinley. McKinley and his allies also tried to frame the contest as a battle between a seventh-generation West Virginian and Mooney, a former Maryland state senator who only moved to the state in 2013 ahead of his first congressional bid.
McKinley additionally made sure voters knew that his colleague-turned-rival was facing two investigations by Office of Congressional Ethics for allegedly spending campaign funds on personal expenses and possibly obstructing the probe, and he even aired an ad showing a digitally altered image of Mooney in a prison jumpsuit. None of this was enough, though, to stop Mooney from winning 54-36 even though he represented considerably less of the new district.
The Office of Congressional Ethics announced weeks later that it had referred two Mooney probes to the House Ethics Committee. The document said there was “substantial reason to believe” Mooney had accepted a free family vacation to Aruba from a direct-mail firm his campaign has paid tens of thousands of dollars to in recent years and also having congressional staffers walk his dog and take his laundry to the cleaners. There have been no new public developments since then, though, and Mooney easily won re-election last week in his dark red House seat.
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