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Sen. Joe Manchin will not seek reelection

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin announced today that he will not seek another term.

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JOE MANCHIN: I believe in my heart of hearts that I have accomplished what I set out to do for West Virginia. I've made one of the toughest decisions of my life and decided that I will not be running for reelection to United States Senate.

SUMMERS: Manchin, a Democrat, has represented the increasingly red state since 2010. Though his centrist politics and tendency to buck his party on major legislation made him a thorn in the side of Democrats, losing him in that seat is a major blow to their efforts to retain control of the chamber in next year's elections. NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh joins us now. Hey there.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Hey, Juana.

SUMMERS: So, Deirdre, what did Manchin have to say about why he does not want to run again next November for that Senate seat?

WALSH: He said he accomplished what he set out to do for his home state of West Virginia. Manchin's 76 years old. He served as governor of the state before he was elected to the Senate in 2010. As you noted, he spent part of a number of bipartisan deals, even though he did sort of become the ire of the progressive left when he pushed back on President Biden's agenda. But he was critical to his climate and health care bill. The political reality for Manchin was that he was already facing long odds in a solidly red state to win as a Democrat on the ballot, with President Joe Biden on the ballot next year. And Biden is deeply unpopular in West Virginia. Manchin spent the last few months distancing himself from Biden. He even talked about repealing parts of the climate bill he actually co-authored.

SUMMERS: Let's talk about this in terms of control of the Senate. As we mentioned, this is a pretty big blow to Senate Democrats' efforts to retain control. How bad are things?

WALSH: I mean, it just got a whole lot harder for Democrats. They were already facing an uphill battle with a map in 2024 with 23 Democratic seats on the map. And with such a narrow Senate majority, they can't really afford to lose anywhere. They're already defending seats in red states like Ohio, with Sherrod Brown running for reelection, and Montana, with Senator Tester running for reelection. In West Virginia, Joe Manchin really was the one Democrat Democrats thought could keep his seat competitive. So it looks more likely Republicans will pick it up. The Senate GOP campaign chief, Steve Daines, quickly put out a statement after Manchin's announcement, saying, quote, "we like our odds in West Virginia."

SUMMERS: OK. Setting aside Senate control for a second here, what about Manchin himself? Any insight on what his future might hold?

WALSH: That's still a really big question. Manchin has been coy about his political future for months. He's been suggesting he might run as an independent for his seat. He made a reference to his plans to continue to stay in politics in his announcement today.

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MANCHIN: But what I will be doing is traveling the country and speaking out to see if there is an interest in creating a movement to mobilize the middle and bring Americans together.

WALSH: Manchin's already traveled to a key primary state - New Hampshire. He was on an effort - an event sponsored by a group called No Labels that's trying to get on the ballot in states to challenge both political parties in next year's election. Manchin sort of danced around whether he would run for president at that event in New Hampshire. Let's take a listen to what he said.

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MANCHIN: We're here to make sure that the American people have an option, and the option is, can you move the political parties off their respective sides? They've gone too far right and too far left.

WALSH: Manchin's argument is the current two parties can't be moved until they are actually threatened.

SUMMERS: OK. So if, say, he were to run, do you have a sense of what a third-party bid with a centrist like Joe Manchin - what would that look like?

WALSH: It's really unclear. His brand has always been arguing that there's a lot more to be accomplished in the political middle, which is hard to understand at a time where there's such division on both sides.

SUMMERS: Yeah.

WALSH: Manchin made this point again in his announcement video today.

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MANCHIN: These are not Republican or Democratic challenges. These are American challenges. They affect every one of us, and we need to face them together.

WALSH: But as - Juana, as you know, it's such a divided country, it's really unclear whether there's any appetite for any moderate national candidate arguing about getting things done in the middle. So - and Manchin's own party has moved significantly since the left. So he's really alienated many of the people he would need to vote for him if he did decide to make any sort of third-party bid.

SUMMERS: NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Thank you.

WALSH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.