Senate Democrats were already facing an uphill climb to retain their slim majority in the 2024 election, and that effort likely just became substantially more difficult.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), arguably the last remaining moderate among Democrats in the Senate, revealed on Thursday that he will not seek re-election to another term next year, according to The Hill.
That decision effectively cedes Manchin's seat in the bright red state of West Virginia to Republicans, as there are virtually no Democrats in the state with the influence or reputation of the former popular governor-turned-centrist senator who would be capable of winning a statewide election for the open slot in the U.S. Senate.
"After months of deliberation and long conversations with my family, I believe in my heart of hearts that I have accomplished what I set out to do for West Virginia," Sen. Manchin said in a four-minute video posted to social media. "I have made one of the toughest decisions of my life and decided that I will not be running for re-election to the United States Senate."
"But what I will be doing is traveling the country and speaking out to see if there is an interest in creating a movement to mobilize the middle and bring Americans together," he added, likely signaling that he was not completely abandoning the political arena.
To the West Virginians who have put their trust in me and fought side by side to make our state better – it has been an honor of my life to serve you. Thank you. My statement on my political future: pic.twitter.com/dz8JuXAyTL
— Senator Joe Manchin (@Sen_JoeManchin) November 9, 2023
"Every incentive in Washington is designed to make our politics extreme," Manchin said later in the video statement. "The growing divide between Democrats and Republicans is paralyzing Congress and worsening our nation’s problems. The majority of Americans are just plain worn out."
"I know our country isn’t as divided as Washington wants us to believe," he added. "We share common values of family, freedom, democracy, dignity, and a belief that together we can overcome any challenge. We need to take back America and not let this divisive hatred further pull us apart."
The Hill noted that polling suggests that Sen. Manchin would likely lose a 2024 re-election bid against the most likely GOP challenger, West Virginia's popular Democrat-turned-Republican Gov. Jim Justice, though the senator might fare better against some of the lesser-known and less popular GOP candidates for his Senate seat.
That has Republicans feeling confident that they can easily pick up Manchin's seat, which is just one of several vulnerable Democratic Senate seats in red states and swing states that must be defended in 2024 while nearly all of the Republican-held seats up for election in the next cycle are generally regarded as safe or represent longshots for Democrats to flip, such as Sen. Rick Scott in Florida and Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas.
Striking an optimistic tone in response to the Manchin news, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman David Bergstein said, "Democrats have multiple pathways to protect and strengthen our Senate majority and are in a strong position to achieve this goal," and added, "We’ve already expanded the battleground map to Texas and Florida, where formidable Democratic candidates are out-raising unpopular Republican incumbents."
As for Manchin's likely replacement following next year's election, Gov. Justice said in a statement, "Senator Joe Manchin and I have not always agreed on policy and politics, but we’re both lifelong West Virginians who love this state beyond belief, and I respect and thank him for his many years of public service."
The Associated Press reported that in addition to harming the Democratic efforts to retain their Senate majority next year, Sen. Manchin's announcement also fueled the speculation that he might launch an independent third-party presidential bid that would threaten President Joe Biden's effort to be re-elected for another term in 2024.
His comments in particular about traveling the country to "mobilize the middle and bring Americans together" coincides with his repeated refusal to rule out a potential presidential run as well as his continued alignment with the secretive but well-funded No Labels group that has suggested it would field a bipartisan centrist ticket in 2024 if the general election matchup is President Biden versus former President Donald Trump.