Hoppy Kercheval, Opinion

Manchin vs. Blankenship? Possible, but not probable

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin is leaving open the possibility — albeit remote — that he could run for the Senate as an independent.

The veteran Democratic senator announced earlier that he is not running for re-election, and he has ruled out a third-party run for President. Manchin says he wants to get away from Washington politics and devote his energies to a super PAC run by his daughter, Heather, that promotes centrist policies.

However, CNN’s Manu Raju reported that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer “recently discussed a long-shot idea” with Manchin of trying to hold the seat as an independent.

Manchin told Raju, “I think that’s a long, long, long-shot scenario. I don’t anticipate that happening. I don’t anticipate running.”

The senator reinforced that position in an interview with MetroNews’ Jeff Jenkins in Charleston last weekend. “He (Schumer) knows I’ve already made up my mind. I’m happy with my decision.”

But there is a qualifier.

Raju reported, and I confirmed with another source, that Manchin is leaving the door open just a crack in case it appears former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship could be the next Senator from West Virginia. The former coal operator is in the race for the Democratic nomination for Senate along with Glenn Elliott and Zachary Schrewsbury.

Yes, it is odd that Blankenship, who is very conservative and has funded campaigns to help Republicans get elected, would run as a Democrat, but he must figure the party switch gives him a better chance than if he ran as a Republican against Gov. Jim Justice and Rep. Alex Mooney.

I am told there is a 15% to 25% chance Manchin would enter the race as an independent if he thinks it is necessary to prevent Blankenship from being elected to represent West Virginia.

The bad blood between Manchin and Blankenship goes back years to when Manchin was governor and Blankenship was running Massey Energy. Blankenship actively campaigned against Manchin’s plan to sell $5.5 billion in bonds to cover the state’s pension programs.

Manchin fired back suggesting Massey operations could be more closely scrutinized by the government. Blankenship sued, claiming Manchin was retaliating against him and his company. Blankenship dropped the suit after Manchin issued a statement saying he regretted his remarks.

Later, Blankenship was convicted of a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate mine safety standards following the 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine, where 29 miners died, and he served a year in jail. However, he has remained politically active.

He tried to unseat Manchin in the 2018 Senate race. Blankenship lost in the Republican Primary, and he then tried unsuccessfully to run in the General Election as a member of the Constitution Party against Manchin.

So, these two men have a long and tumultuous history. Is there one more showdown ahead? Several pieces would have to fall into place for that to happen. Blankenship would have to pull off an upset in the Democratic Primary and be polling well against Justice or Mooney. Manchin would have to change his mind about running.

It is unlikely that happens. However, as Manchin told CNN, “You never say never to anything because you never know.”

Hoppy Kercheval is a MetroNews anchor and the longtime host of “Talkline.” Contact him at hoppy.kercheval@wvradio.com.