Manchin, lifelong Democrat, announces move to independent

U.S. Sen Joe Manchin, a mainstay of Democratic Party politics in West Virginia, has left the party and registered as an independent.

Manchin released a statement and a photo Friday, saying he changed his registration to unaffiliated at the West Virginia State Capitol.

“From my first day in public service in 1982, I have always focused on doing what’s best for my state and my country, without regard to party or politics. Throughout my days in elected office, I have always been proud of my commitment to common sense, bipartisanship and my desire to bring people together. It’s who I am. It’s who I will always be. I have never seen America through a partisan lens.” Manchin stated.

“However, since becoming a United States senator in 2010, I have seen both the Democrat and Republican parties leave West Virginia and our country 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. 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.”

Manchin, who assumed office in the Senate in 2010, has been in the national spotlight as a sometimes difficult-to-get decisive vote in the 50-50 U.S. Senate.

Independents currently in the Senate include Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Angus King of Maine and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Each caucuses with Democrats, contributing to the Democratic majority and control of committees.

Manchin acknowledged months ago that he had been thinking about becoming an independent. This move effectively gives Manchin some options if he wants to seek ballot access as an independent.

If Manchin wants to run as an independent, he would need to kick off a petition. He also faced a deadline for the switch.

Independents and other persons not affiliated with one of the four recognized political parties (Dem, Libertarian, Mountain, GOP) have until Aug. 1 to gather signatures of at least 1% of the votes cast in the race for the seat they’re seeking in the last election, said Deak Kersey, chief of staff for the West Virginia Secretary of State.

For a statewide or federal office, those signatures must be received by the Secretary of State by no later than Aug. 1, along with the certificate of announcement and filing fee.

Because a certificate of announcement must be filed with the nominating certificates, the candidate must attest under oath that he “has not been registered as a voter affiliated with any other political party for a period of 60 days before the date of filing the announcement.”

So, with a deadline of Aug. 1 for nominating certificates with signatures and the certificate of announcement, an individual currently registered with a recognized political party must change their political party to a minor/independent/no party affiliation at least 60 days prior to Aug. 1; 60 days prior to Aug. 1 is June 2, which means the individual must change their political party by no later than June 1 of this year to qualify as an independent candidate on this year’s general election ballot.

June 1 is today.

Other factors later in the cycle could improve an independent’s chances of electoral success. If any of the party nominees for offices like Senate or governor were to withdraw or become incapacitated, state law says party executive committees could fill the vacancy up to 84 days before the election. With a Nov. 5 general election that would put the deadline for filling a party nominee vacancy under such circumstances at late August.

Manchin announced last November that he would not seek re-election to the Senate. Since then, Gov. Jim Justice has won the Republican nomination for Senate, and the Democratic candidate is Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott. Justice’s campaign said Friday that it has no comment on Manchin’s move to independent.

Manchin, for years, has been rumored to be interested in another run for governor, a position he held from 2004-10. The Republican candidate for governor is three-term Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and the Democratic candidate is Huntington Mayor Steve Williams.

“Sen. Manchin, it’s his choice what his personal party affiliation or non-affiliations should be, but I’ll also take him at his word that he’s not running for re-election to the Senate and he’s not running for governor of the State of West Virginia,” said Mike Pushkin, chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, endorsing Williams’ candidacy for governor.

Matt Herridge, chairman of the West Virginia Republican Party, promoted that party’s strength. In particular, he touted Morrisey’s campaign for governor.

“It doesn’t seem like a great strategy to me,” Herridge said of Manchin’s political viability as an independent.