The phantom campaigns of Joe Manchin

Current U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin recently changed his voter registration from Democrat to “unaffiliated” (aka, independent). This is noteworthy, though not surprising. Manchin has reiterated several times over the last several years that he’s felt the national Democratic Party has moved too far left for his tastes, and he follows the path laid by Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who changed from Democrat to independent in 2022.

What’s created all the buzz, however, is not that Manchin changed his party affiliation but the timing of his switch.

Some Republicans have reportedly approached Manchin and encouraged him to run against the West Virginia Republican Party gubernatorial nominee Patrick Morrisey. To do so, Manchin would either have to take over the nomination from Steve Williams, who ran unopposed on the Democratic ticket, or to run as an independent.

In order to run as an independent, a candidate must have been unaffiliated with any of the four recognized parties in West Virginia (Republican, Democrat, Mountain and Libertarian) for at least 60 days by the Aug. 1 filing deadline. Counting backwards, that means the deadline to switch parties was June 1. Manchin changed his registration on May 31.

So, in theory, all Manchin would need now to run for governor is a petition with signatures totaling 1% or more of the number of votes cast for the governor’s race. Across all party ballots, 315,824 votes were cast for governor. So Manchin would need approximately 3,159 signatures.

All this, of course, led to much speculation that Manchin may, in fact, try another run for West Virginia governor.

Which Manchin denied he was planning — but then immediately qualified his “I am not running” with “I’ve never closed doors.”

Sound familiar?

This is Manchin’s third round of “will he/won’t he?”: First, it was a potential presidential run on the No Labels ticket, then the question of whether he would run for reelection to the Senate, and now a not-fully-closed-door on a third party run for governor. And so far, Machin is 0-2 on “will he?” Voters probably shouldn’t hold their breaths for this one either.

It seems Manchin’s short tenure as the most important swing vote in the Senate added extra fuel to his desire to remain atop the headlines. Because it increasingly seems like he’s leveraging his reputation as a seasoned politician and West Virginia’s last-Democrat-standing to fuel rumors of phantom campaigns — never fully committing but neither outright denying — just to stay in the spotlight.

His equivocation is quickly becoming exhausting, especially when there are so many other, arguably more important, things vying for our attention all the time. And as long as Manchin remains noncommittal — leading some voters to hold out hope of his return — he’s distracting voters from researching their actual options and making the best choice from candidates who are, in fact, running.