A fight for GOP leadership is brewing deep in ruby-red West Virginia as Republicans eye what they believe is their best chance to unseat moderate Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va.
Although it’s early in the 2024 cycle, Republicans already see West Virginia as a reasonable opportunity to pick up a Senate electoral map that is expected to favor them over Democrats. Manchin has yet to say what he plans to do.
Rep. Alex Mooney, RW.Va., is the only major declared candidate in the race so far. His campaign recently received a boost from the conservative group Club For Growth, which pledged to spend at least $10 million on the House Freedom Caucus member.
Mooney has also been endorsed by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
But Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., appears to be eyeing a more moderate candidate for the state’s popular governor, Jim Justice, who switched parties from Democrat to Republican in 2017. Justice will telling Fox & Friends last month that he was “seriously considering” a Senate run, but has not entered the race.
JOE MANCHIN: IF THE FDA DOESN’T FIGHT THE OPIOID CRISIS, THIS REPUBLICAN AND THIS DEMOCRAT
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 polls show that he already dominates the Republican primary field and would be by far the strongest general election candidate to defeat Joe Manchin,” he said Senate Leadership Fund spokeswoman Torunn Sinclair on Fox News Digital.
National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chairman Steve Daines, R-Mont., leader of the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, has been “recruiting Justice to run,” according to a source familiar with NRSC thinking.
FOX NEWS POLL: TRUMP, DESANTIS TOP 2024 REPUBLICAN PREFERENCE
The source pointed to Justice’s over-the-water popularity among West Virginians and Republican-friendly policies, such as the tax cuts he implemented this year. “He’s just got a solid track record in the state, West Virginians love him,” the source said. Justice also has more name recognition in the state than Mooney.
The battle lines being drawn in West Virginia are similar to those seen across the country in 2022, when Democrats held the Senate while several Republican candidates, many of whom were hard-line and backed by former President Donald Trump, they lost races that were in one. point is expected to tilt to the right.
But in an interview with Fox News Digital, Mooney, who closely aligns with Trump, noted that the former president’s brand of politics proved overwhelmingly popular in both 2016 and 2020.
He also made a run at Mooney’s House primary last year, when he faced off 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 endorsed by Trump.
During his interview, Mooney noted Justice’s past affiliation as a Democrat and dismissed him and Manchin as “big-spending liberals.”
“I am the only conservative [in the running]” Mooney said.
“Jim Justice and Joe Manchin tried to defeat me in my last race. They both ran TV ads attacking me, and one of the reasons I didn’t vote for Joe Biden. [$1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure act]. They specifically attacked me for that,” Mooney said. “So I guess if you want a big spender who’s going to bankrupt America, you have other options than me: You have Jim Justice or Joe Manchin.”
MANCHIN leads bipartisan delegation to UKRAINE WITH COUNTRY MUSIC STAR BRAD PAISLEY
A source familiar with Mooney’s campaign told Fox News Digital that they had also met with the NRSC.
The GOP split was evident in Club For Growth President David McIntosh’s statement to Fox News Digital about why his group was supporting Mooney.
“Jim Justice comes from the big spender, the Mitch McConnell wing of the Republican Party,” McIntosh said. “With inflation running rampant, Republican primary voters no longer want to elect senators who will support radical out-of-control spending like Manchin and Justice, and instead want principled, pro-growth conservatives like Alex Mooney.”
SUPREME COURT ALLOWS 12-YEAR-OLD TRANS GIRL TO RUN GIRLS’ TRACK IN WEST VIRGINIA
The conservative group spent more than $14 million in North Carolina’s 2022 Republican Senate primary, where there was a similar split between parties. In that state, little-known Rep. Ted Budd, RNC, backed by Donald Trump, beat the state’s popular former Republican governor Pat McCrory.
Recent polls put Justice in the lead. This month’s National Public Affairs poll projects the governor with a 55 percent lead over Mooney’s 24 percent. A poll commissioned by the Senate Leadership Fund shared by McConnell earlier this year also has Justice in the lead.
The new poll commissioned by Mooney’s campaign and shared with Fox News Digital gives the House Freedom Caucus lawmaker a four-point lead over Justice, 45-41.
CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP
But even with the support of the Club For Growth, Mooney’s fundraising operation still lags 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.