Immediately after longtime West Virginia senator Joe Manchin bowed to political reality and called it quits on his re-election, Republicans celebrated that it virtually guarantees their party an elusive win next year.
In fact, some were already proclaiming that the state’s First Pup, Babydog, and her owner, Governor Jim Justice, are cruising to victory next November.
But that’s not necessarily the case — it’s not next November that Justice should be concerned with, but rather next year’s GOP primary. Justice, who finally secured Donald Trump’s valuable endorsement, faces Congressman Alex Mooney and a field that may now swell given the GOP’s virtual certainty to pick up the seat.
Mooney might not have Trump’s backing, but he’s a fierce defender of the former president and has the deep pockets of the Club for Growth going all out for him in a primary that will be less focused on “electability.”
“Alex Mooney was practically built in a lab by Club for Growth and this race is an example of their entire reason for existing, to elect fiscally conservative candidates over fiscally moderate ones in safe Republican seats,” a longtime West Virginia observer told me, adding that “now that Manchin is out and this is a complete guarantee flip to Republicans, the NRSC and allies are heavily incentivized to leave Justice to fend for himself while they focus on Montana, Ohio, Nevada, Arizona and Pennsylvania.”
What’s bad for a Republican like Justice is even worse for Democrats around the country, who can’t count on Manchin dragging tens of millions of dollars in outside spending (from both parties) to the country roads of West Virginia.
A West Virginia veteran noted to me that “with Jim Justice having the Trump endorsement, he’s going to be even more passive about campaigning,” and that Mooney has a track record of beating more liberal Republicans in primaries: “aggressive Mooney backed by Club for Growth against Justice (aka David McKinley 2.0) resting on his Trump endorsement with no national bailout coming means you’ll watch this race tighten and tighten. In the end, flip a coin.”
The one near certainty is that whoever walks away with the GOP nod will be a senator for as long as they’d like.
On our radar
RETURN TO EPSTEIN ISLAND Tennessee senator Marsha Blackburn issued a subpoena for flight logs from a private plane belonging to the deceased convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. The plane, nicknamed the “Lolita Express,” was allegedly used in the trafficking of underage girls and boasted many high-profile guests, including former president Bill Clinton.
IN TRUMP WE TRUST A new Bloomberg poll suggests the NYT/Siena survey of voters showing Trump leading Biden in swing states was no fluke. Bloomberg’s poll not only shows Trump ahead in those key states, but reveals that voters trust him more on the economy, foreign policy and immigration. Even on abortion, a bread-and-butter issue for Democrats, Trump only trails by four points.
NEW YORK TIME’S UP? Pro-Palestinian protesters staged a sit-in at the New York Times headquarters on Thursday demanding the paper’s editorial board call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Israel has separately accused NYT photojournalists who embedded with Hamas on October 7 of having advanced knowledge of the terrorist group’s attack plans.
Biden team manages expectations for Xi meeting
President Joe Biden is scheduled to meet Chinese president Xi Jinping — in person for the second time of Biden’s presidency — on Wednesday of next week as the two attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco. According to the New York Times, the pair will discuss “Taiwan, election interference and the war in the Middle East.”
Also on the agenda, per the Times, will be “ways to strengthen ties,” as advisors say the meeting will “[feature] a host of topics on which the two fiercely competitive countries disagree.”
Expectations for the world leaders to make “any major breakthroughs,” as ABC puts it, are low.
“There won’t be anything that will move the relationship in a different direction,” Oriana Skylar Mastro, a fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, told the Times.
During a press briefing, an anonymous US official gave reporters a meaningless preview of the meeting:
We’re clear-eyed about this. We know efforts to shape or reform China over several decades have failed. But we expect China to be around and to be a major player on the world stage for the rest of our lifetimes.
Speaking to ABC, Jude Blanchette, chair of China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, provided an equally vague analysis (if it can be called that) of the forthcoming tête-à-tête, claiming Biden and Xi are looking “to intentionally keep that bar low.” Blanchette added:
What’s going on here is an attempt to have a deep conversation where the two sides directly share their concerns, but more importantly that the meeting unlocks, especially in the Chinese system, space for further engagement in constructive work.
This meeting sounds like a waste of time; nevertheless, there could be two benefits for Biden: tempering expectations by intentionally keeping the bar low is a great warm-up to his presidential re-election campaign. And if the conversation runs dry, he could always hit Xi up for some more Chinese wire transfers to fund said campaign.
Five GOP presidential candidates took the stage during Wednesday night’s NBC News debate, while again the frontrunner, former president Donald Trump, held his own rally offsite in protest of the process. On stage in Miami, though, things were at least a little spicier than the last iteration. Vivek Ramaswamy came out swinging, calling on RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel to resign and scorching the bias of the NBC-affiliated moderators. He later turned his sights onto his opponents, throwing a two-for-one jab about Dick Cheney and high heels at both Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis.
Although DeSantis and Haley have been at each other’s throats since Haley rose in the Iowa polls following the second debate, they found some common ground on Wednesday. DeSantis agreed that Ramaswamy had gone too far when the tech tycoon, in reaction to Haley criticizing his presence on TikTok, pointed out that Haley’s daughter was also on the platform. “I think kids are out of bounds,” DeSantis offered.
Could this be a strategic olive branch? After all, DeSantis allies seem quite keen on the idea of the other candidates dropping out to strengthen the Florida governor’s chances against Trump. The only problem with that strategy is they also have to take out Ramaswamy, who seems completely uninterested in being a “team player” for the political establishment and is still punching above his station in the polls.
Beshear’s sore winners
Kentucky governor Andy Beshear’s team isn’t letting the bad blood stay on the campaign trail. The incumbent governor won re-election Tuesday night after what became a nasty race against Attorney General Daniel Cameron, with the latter gentleman facing racial attacks from a left-wing PAC. Now, Beshear’s campaign officials are rubbing salt in the wound, which is generally considered bad form in the campaign world.
“I think Daniel Cameron should be ashamed and embarrassed by the race he ran and so should his team,” Eric Hyers, a top strategist to Beshears, said Wednesday morning. “It was gross, disgusting, and just very, very craven, and I’m glad they lost and it wasn’t that close. They deserve to be embarrassed.”
Republican consultant Brandon Moody slammed Hyers’s comments on X, calling him an “insufferable little prick.” Hyers, who also served as the Biden campaign’s Michigan state director in 2020, countered that Moody’s opinion didn’t matter because he didn’t attend “Henry Berg’s funeral,” referring to a Kentucky-based transgender activist who died by suicide last year. While normal people might view that as a non-sequitur, apparently Beshear campaign officials took umbrage with Cameron’s decision to campaign against gender reassignment surgeries for minors and viewed that as a direct attack on Berg and his mother, a Democrat who serves as in the Kentucky legislature.
Ah, state politics. Never change!