With increasing signs that Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin will not seek reelection next year, West Virginia will host a Republican primary that is tantamount to election of the next senator from the Mountaineer State.
Given the role that it would play in a Republican takeover of the Senate now divided between 51 Democrats and 49 Republicans, the West Virginia Republican primary race is between Republican Rep. Alex Mooney, 52, and a swashbuckling conservative: two-term Gov. Jim Justice, 72, a multimillionaire.
According to a recent MetroNews West Virginia poll of likely GOP voters statewide, Justice leads Mooney by 58% to 26%.
But as some in the punditocracy already dub Justice a "cinch" for nomination, there are already growing signs that Mooney will wage a battle royal against that is sure to tighten the race — and, in the process, attract widespread press coverage.
"Gov. Justice is almost certainly in the lead for now and Alex has never been elected statewide," former state GOP Vice Chair Lynn Staton told Newsmax. "But Gov. Justice definitely has negatives and this could help Alex."
Mooney spelled out just what those negatives were to Newsmax, beginning with the fact that Justice "didn't vote for Donald Trump in 2016 and supported [President] Joe Biden's infrastructure bill that Trump opposed and called 'the noninfrastructure bill.' I fought for the entire Trump agenda in Congress and fought against the ridiculous impeachments [of Trump]."
When redistricting forced Mooney to compete with fellow Republican (and more senior) Rep. David McKinley in 2022, Trump gave his endorsement to eventual big winner Mooney. So far, the 45th president is neutral in the Mooney-Justice bout.
But Mooney has picked up endorsements of stalwart conservative Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, and Rand Paul of Kentucky, as well as a number of leading national conservative associations: Gun Owners of America, Club for Growth, and the Senate Conservative Fund, headed by former Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.
"Justice is almost certainly the front-runner in the primary for now," former state Republican Party Chair Doug McKinney told Newsmax. "But I would also say that the endorsements Alex has will help with the grassroots and Justice's endorsement from Mitch McConnell won't be a lot of help to him."
Many younger conservatives, McKinney explained, "think the last thing McConnell did that was any good was keeping [present Attorney General] Merrick Garland off the Supreme Court in 2016."
Endorsements notwithstanding, Mooney made it clear to use that he will rely heavily on a strategy that has served him well since he topped a field of five primary opponents in his first U.S. House race in 2014: shoe leather politics. In an era when candidates increasingly deploy high-tech tools, cable TV, and the internet to campaign, Mooney is most comfortable mobilizing volunteers and joining them on phonebanks and door-to-door canvasses.
"And I've marched in 10 parades and will march in a lot more," said Mooney, who seems to accept invitations to speak to any Kiwanis or Rotary Club and, as one West Virginia wag joked, "Alex will speak at the opening of an envelope."
The congressman's style stands in striking contrast to that of Justice, who has not marched in any parades this year and does not appear to have a busy regimen of campaigning. Although Greenbriar vacation spot owner Justice is worth an estimated half-billion dollars, he has signaled he will not use his own money in the campaign and will instead rely on contributions from others.
In many ways, the Republican primary in West Virginia is one that is shaping up as much a clash of style and technique as it is in brands of conservatism. One thing is certain: This is a race that will be watched and commented on widely.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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