A fight over GOP direction is brewing in deep ruby-red West Virginia as Republicans ponder what they believe is their best chance to oust moderate Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va.
While it’s still early in the 2024 cycle, Republicans are already viewing West Virginia as a reasonable opportunity to capture a Senate electoral map widely expected to favor them over Democrats. Manchin has yet to say what he plans to do.
Rep. Alex Mooney, RW.Va., is the only declared primary candidate in the race so far. His campaign recently got a boost from the conservative group Club For Growth, which pledged to spend at least $10 million on the House Freedom Caucus member.
Mooney was also endorsed by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
But Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., appears to be eyeing a more moderate candidate in the state’s popular governor, Jim Justice, who switched parties from Democrat to Republican in 2017. The Justice told Fox & Friends last month that he is “seriously considering” a Senate bid, but has yet to enter the race.
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Without commenting on Mooney’s campaign, the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund called Justice the “strongest” candidate to face Manchin in November 2024.
“Governor Justice is an extraordinarily popular figure in West Virginia, and our polling shows that he is already dominating the Republican primary field and will be the strongest candidate in the general election to defeat Joe Manchin,” a Senate spokesman said. Leadership Fund Torunn Sinclair at Fox News Digital.
National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chair Steve Daines, R-Mont., head of the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, is “recruiting Justice to run,” according to a source familiar with NRSC thinking .
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The source pointed to Justice’s over-the-water popularity among West Virginians and Republican-friendly policies like the sweeping tax cuts he enacted this year. “He just has a strong record in the state, West Virginians love him,” the source said. Justice also has higher name recognition in the state than Mooney.
The battle lines drawn in West Virginia are similar to those seen across the country in 2022, when Democrats hold the Senate while several GOP candidates, many of whom are hardliners and backed by former President Donald Trump , has lost races that are in one. point expected to lean to the right.
But in an interview with Fox News Digital, Mooney – who is closely aligned with Trump – pointed out that the former president’s brand of politics has proven very popular in 2016 and 2020.
It also had a test-run in Mooney’s House primary last year, when he ran against Rep. David McKinley, RW.Va., after West Virginia lost a seat in the redistricting process. McKinley was endorsed by Justice and Manchin, while Mooney was supported by Trump.
In his interview, Mooney pointed to Justice’s former associate as a Democrat and dismissed him and Manchin as “big-spending liberals.”
“I’m the only conservative [in the running]Mooney said.
“Jim Justice and Joe Manchin both tried to defeat me in my last race. They both ran TV ads attacking me, and that’s one of the reasons — I didn’t vote for Joe Biden [$1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure act]. Specifically, they attacked me for that,” Mooney said. “So I think if you want a big spender that’s going to bankrupt America, you’ve got other options than me — you’ve got Jim Justice or Joe Manchin.”
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A source familiar with Mooney’s campaign told Fox News Digital that they also met with the NRSC.
The GOP divide was evident in Club For Growth President David McIntosh’s statement to Fox News Digital about why his group is backing Mooney.
“Jim Justice comes from the big spending, Mitch McConnell wing of the Republican Party,” McIntosh said. “With runaway inflation, Republican primary voters no longer want to elect senators who will support uncontrolled spending radicals like Manchin and Justice, and instead want principled, pro-growth conservatives like Alex Mooney.”
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The conservative group spent more than $14 million in the 2022 North Carolina Senate GOP primary, where there was a similar inter-party fracture. In that state, little-known Donald Trump-backed Rep. Ted Budd, RN.C., the famous former Republican governor of the state Pat McCrory.
Recent polls put Justice in the lead. A National Public Affairs survey from this month shows the governor leading with 55% to Mooney’s 24%. A Senate Leadership Fund-commissioned poll shared by McConnell earlier this year also had the Justice leading.
A new poll commissioned by Mooney’s campaign and shared with Fox News Digital gives House Freedom Caucus lawmakers a four-point lead over Justice, 45-41.
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But even with support from Club For Growth, Mooney’s fundraising is still far behind Manchin’s — even though it’s early in the race.
Mooney’s campaign raised more than $500,000 in the first quarter and ended the period with nearly $1.4 million in cash on hand.
Between 2019 and 2022, a non-active cycle for Manchin after he won re-election in 2018, the Democratic senator raised more than $8.5 million.