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Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia registers as independent, citing 'partisan extremism'

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced Friday he has registered as an independent, raising questions about his future political plans.
FILE - Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, July 11, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Manchin says he has registered as an independent, raising questions about his future political plans. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced Friday he has registered as an independent, raising questions about his future political plans.

Manchin has often been at odds with the Democratic Party and an obstacle to many of President Joe Biden’s legislative priorities.

He had announced in November that he wouldn’t seek re-election to the Senate in the heavily GOP state, making Republicans heavy favorites to pick up a seat in their bid to retake the majority next year.

Manchin has served in the Senate since 2010. He serves as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He said in a statement that over the past 15 years he has seen both major political parties leave their constituents behind "for partisan extremism while jeopardizing our democracy.”

“Today, our national politics are broken and neither party is willing to compromise to find common ground,” Manchin said. “To stay true to myself and remain committed to put country before party, I have decided to register as an independent with no party affiliation and continue to fight for America’s sensible majority.”

But his announcement left many questions unanswered. Manchin did not disclose if he will continue caucusing with Democrats in the Senate, where they hold a slim majority. And he did not indicate if he will be running for political office in the near future.

A request for further comment from his office was not immediately returned.

Manchin announced in February that he would not be running for president, saying he didn’t want to be a “spoiler.”

“I will not be seeking a third-party run,” he said in a speech at West Virginia University. “I will not be involved in a presidential run. I will be involved in making sure that we secure a president that has the knowledge and has the passion and has the ability to bring this country together.”

The speech was billed as part of a national listening tour Manchin announced when he decided not to seek another Senate term. He told the Morgantown audience that he had no interest in being “a deal-breaker, if you will, a spoiler, whatever you want to call it.”

“I just don’t think it’s the right time,” he said then.

Facing potential retirement, Manchin appears to be keeping all options open – for another Senate race or a potential run for governor.

Manchin has long wanted to switch his party affiliation to become an independent, according to a person familiar with the situation and granted anonymity to discuss it. But a looming deadline in West Virginia forced the issue.

Candidates must file with their affiliation 60 days prior to the Aug. 1 deadline in West Virginia to run in this years election. If the Senate candidates stumble, Manchin could be poised to try to keep his seat. Or he could run for governor.

Manchin did not say whether he will caucus with Democrats, but he would lose his chairmanship of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee if he does not align with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in some way. Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema does not caucus with Senate Democrats, but is still considered part of the majority party because she receives her committee assignments from Schumer.

Manchin entered the Senate after winning a special election following the death of Robert C. Byrd. He won reelection in both 2012 and 2018, with the latter campaign his toughest in his three-plus decades in West Virginia politics. He defeated Republican state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey by just over 3 percentage points.

Registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans during Manchin’s first two Senate campaigns, but things have changed since then. Now, about 40% of registered voters are Republicans, compared with 31% for Democrats and about 24% with no party affiliation.

Both chambers of the Legislature have Republican supermajorities, and Donald Trump overwhelmingly won the state in 2016 and 2020.


Staff writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

Lisa Mascaro, Kevin Freking And Farnoush Amiri, The Associated Press

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