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Spoiler Joe? Speculation grows Manchin might wage third-party challenge to Biden

An independent run by West Virginia senator would be reminiscent of Ross Perot's disruptive '92 bid.

Published: April 8, 2023 12:09am

Sen. Joe Manchin has been courting top-level political donors in recent weeks while remaining coy about running for another term representing West Virginia, stoking speculation he might wage a third-party challenge in the 2024 presidential race that could siphon Democrat votes from Joe Biden.

An adviser to major GOP donors told Just the News this week that Manchin recently spent time with some big name conservative funders,

"Joe Biden has gone so far to the left. And sometimes it seems like Sen. Manchin is all alone in the Senate, except when (Arizona Sen.) Kyrtsen Sinema occasionally joins him. But really there are five to seven other Democrats who feel just like him," the adviser said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was referencing private discussions. "He just has the courage of his convictions to drive his decisions." 

"There are a number of conservatives who have spent time with Sen. Manchin. They were actually hoping he would switch to the Republican Party," the adviser added. "Now the Senator hasn't said this but it's been suggested by others that he might have (switched) if Mitch McConnell wasn't the GOP leader. An independent run might be the next best thing."

The aforementioned anonymous adviser isn't the only source pushing the idea of a Manchin for President campaign. Politico ran an article last month speculating about the West Virginia Democrat's future, stating that he still has time to make a decision on whether or not to make an independent run at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 

"Manchin says he’s not deciding on anything until the end of the year and is also pointedly refusing to rule out a presidential run on a third-party ticket," Politico reported. "That gives him roughly nine more months to keep Washington guessing. In the meantime, he’ll keep exerting his political leverage, at least until he runs and Republicans start to limit his opportunities or a retirement announcement saps his Senate sway." 

"He’s running for something. I don’t know what it is,” Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) told Politico. Tuberville is reportedly working on legislation with Manchin surrounding college athlete compensation. “He’s going to have a tough race. I think West Virginia’s redder than we are in Alabama. So he’s going to put his best foot forward for a year and a half. We gotta think he’s going to run.”

Manchin added to the speculation by appearing on NBC's "Meet The Press" last Sunday, pointedly refusing to rule out a presidential run, quoting Abraham Lincoln and invoking the need for unity. 

Host Chuck Todd said Manchin sounded like a presidential candidate and quoted from an interview he had just done with the Washington Post in which the Democrat said, "If enough Americans believe there is an option and the option is a threat to the extreme left and the extreme right, it will be the greatest contribution to democracy, I believe."

This was in response to Manchin being asked if he would join a "no labels ticket." 

Manchin replied: "When you’re asking me what I’m going to do and what my political ambitions would be, it’s to make the country work together and be a United States, and not the divided states."

"I'm going to do whatever I can, to have a voice in that middle, that we can basically force both sides and say wait a minute. You've gone to extremes. You've got to start coming back," he continued. "You've got to find ways to solve problems. You can't solve them from the extreme right and the extreme left. You can't make people pick a side... Neither one of them are doing the job the way we should do it. But one's not as bad as the other so you pick a side. I think we can do better than that. And if we can change that dialogue and have a movement Chuck, then we've done our job." 

Todd asked if Manchin would like to see Biden run again and his answer was non-committal, after which Todd followed up to ask about a potential change in party affiliation. 

"The party identification is not going to change me," Manchin shot back. "Democrat, Republican. I mean having a (D) and (R) should not change you as a person. I'm going to still fight for the things I do. Can't I be a moderate centrist? With whatever identification, or no identification I would think. I'm not going to be changing as a person... I'm going to continue to fight for the people of West Virginia and the people of my great country. Proud to be an American." 

The West Virginia moderate was also asked directly about playing the "spoiler" for the upcoming presidential cycle, to which he replied, "I would never intend to be a spoiler of anything. I would like to basically be a promoter of united government. A united government that basically has provided the greatest opportunities in the world." 

Many in the media and political world are drawing comparisons between Manchin's possible run and the late-Ross Perot's presidential campaign in 1992.

Perot, a billionaire businessman from Texas, ran for the White House as an independent in 1992 and 1996 and was credited in some circles with causing George H.W. Bush's loss to Bill Clinton, as he was able to steal enough votes away from the center-right of the spectrum to hand Democrats an upset. 

Perot, similar to Manchin in that they both held moderate views with aims to shrink the deficit, "tapped into voter anger stemming from bloated federal budget deficits and anti-Washington sentiments," the University of Virginia's (UVA's) Miller Center wrote. Even Bush's Vice President Dan Quayle admitted, after the fact, that Perot had played a huge part in their defeat. 

“The Perot factor was clearly a huge factor in that ’92 campaign," he said. "We never really figured out how to deal with it. He was in the campaign, then he was out of the campaign, then he was back in. The Clinton people talked our people into letting him into the debates, which was a big mistake. You notice he wasn’t in the debates in ’96, but he was in ’92. 

James Baker, Bush's chief of staff at the time said, “We had Ross Perot taking two out of every three votes from us, and there’s no doubt about that. Don’t believe that baloney that he puts out that he didn’t take from us any more than he took from the Democrats. He took, our polling showed it consistently, two out of every three. He got 19 percent, we got 38 percent. Take two-thirds of 19 percent, and we got 51 percent.”

Just The News reached out the Manchin's office for comment on his potential run, but did not receive a reply. 

You can follow Nick on Twitter @NGivasDC

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