The 2022 elections broke Mitch McConnell’s heart. After multiple terms as Majority Leader and a tantalizing two-year stint in an evenly-divided Senate under President Joe Biden, Mitch could taste his return to power. When Herschel Walker failed to get across the line and Chuck Schumer took full control, Mitch found himself in the most unfamiliar and unpleasant place he knows: the minority.
He does not plan to stay there. The 2024 Senate map looks like an absolute disaster for Democrats. The combination of states in play could usher in a Republican trifecta if they win the Presidency, or at least cripple Biden in his second term.
Twenty Democrats and three independents who caucus with them are up for election against just ten GOP seats. Democrats must defend seats in three of the reddest states in America: West Virginia, Montana, and Ohio. The Democrats’ best targets, by contrast would be Florida, Missouri, Texas and Nebraska, all solid Trump states.
It honestly looks impossible at this point for the Republicans not to take the Senate. But Mitch McConnell will not be taking any chances which is why, on Valentine’s Day this past week, he sent a letter to Jim Justice. The letter was written in the love language of every politician — it was a poll.
The poll, by McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund, says that Jim Justice is beating everybody in the world for West Virginia’s Senate seat. The results show that Jim is known by literally all and beloved by most. According to the numbers, Jim absolutely wallops young Alex Mooney by thirty points and pounds poor Patrick Morrisey by twenty-two. Most importantly, it shows Justice would triumph over Joe Manchin by as many as ten percentage points, a thrashing such as Joe has never taken in his long political life.
Mitch McConnell wants Jim Justice bad, but I wonder if Mitch wants Jim as much as Joe did when the Jim Justice show started back in 2015? Of course back then Jim was a recent convert to the Democratic Party and Manchin’s recruit to lead the Democrats in 2016, donating Joe’s own Larry Puccio as campaign chair. That didn’t quite turn out according to plan for the Democrats when Justice quit the party not long into his term. It won’t quite turn out to plan for Joe if Jim ends up being the one who sends him packing from the U.S. Senate.
Candidate recruitment is the heart and soul of party building. There are hundreds of races to fill and every one of them needs a warm body and money to fund the campaign. So every party leader thinks a rich candidate is a two-fer. You haven’t just filled the slot, you’ve got someone who can stroke checks to himself, freeing “your” money up to use elsewhere. A great many of the Democrats in West Virginia thought Jim Justice would be showering manna from heaven on not only his own campaign, but those of lesser candidates as well.
Of course being a senator is nothing at all like being a governor. A governor runs things his way and on his own timetable. He lives where he wants and shows up where he wants and most things he encounters are up to him to decide. In the Senate you have to spend a lot of time in D.C., be there to vote when they tell you, and leadership — i.e. Mitch McConnell — makes most of the important decisions for you. It doesn’t really sound like Jim Justice’s bag, pulling a switch for Mitch a thousand times a year. Plus, Jim’s not looking to make bank in his golden years lobbying, as many senators do. Jim might disappoint Mitch.
But some people are simply not satisfied being rich when they could be rich and important and being a senator certainly scratches that itch. Jim may give Mitch his wish and declare for Senate. If he does, look for Joe to call it a career and head to K street where he will be warmly received by his friends in the energy business. No matter Mitch’s intentions, his poll seems very plausible and the next Senator from West Virginia will be the one with Trump’s endorsement, which Jim will surely have. “To be loved — oh, what a feeling.”