WHEELING - Sen. Joe Manchin has made it clear that he may be looking to seek a different political office in 2016. And while many - including Manchin - are pondering a return visit as West Virginia's next governor, Michael Weber sees a different course.
"I think he should be president," Weber, a New Mexico resident, said.
As in president. Of the United States.
Weber has been the strongest supporter of such a national run by Manchin, starting the "Draft Joe Manchin" Twitter campaign in June. Since then, the original page has spawned a number of state pages - about 30 total - with handles such as "WV 4 JoeManchin 4 Prez 16" and "Iowans 4 Joe Manchin."
Weber worked for Manchin in 1994-95, during his first gubernatorial run. He said the senator has a unique set of leadership abilities that make him the logical choice to be the nation's next president.
"I think he's an exceptional leader ... and I think he would make a great president," Weber told the Sunday News-Register. "His personal qualities, his problem-solving abilities, his character ... I don't think there's anyone quite like him in national politics today."
Much of the attention to date has focused on Hillary Clinton as the Democrat Party's 2016 nominee. Weber sees another term or two of divided government in America if Clinton wins the White House.
"With Hillary Clinton, we would see more divided government and political polarization. It may not be her fault, but there's a lot of history with the Clintons," Weber said, noting 40 percent of independents have said they would never vote for Clinton.
Manchin, on the other hand, would bring the country together, Weber added.
"Joe Manchin is so unique when it comes to politicians today. Who else can go on Fox News or MSNBC and be equally comfortable?" he said. "Forty-three percent of the legislation he has introduced has been co-sponsored with Republicans. He's centrist in his thinking, he's from the South, he's Roman Catholic. His personal qualities are so unique in today's political environment - he's empathetic, he has great communication skills, he's willing to work with anybody to get things done."
And 2016 may be the opportune time for his candidacy, according to Weber. Twelve of the first 26 Democrat primary states are in the South, which could assist a centrist candidate such as Manchin. His campaign also would unite centrist Democrats, Weber added, noting that sector of the party currently doesn't have a leader.
"I predict he would carry 40 states or more. It will be a landslide if Sen. Manchin runs," Weber said. "He will lead, he will have both Republicans and Democrats working with him at the White House, and in one year he will balance our budget and solve many other national problems. Things are queued up more for a centrist and southern candidate in 2016 than people might realize."
The various Manchin for President Twitter pages have about 1,600 individual followers - 61 percent male and 39 percent female, according to Weber. Manchin's strongest support is coming from the South - West Virginia, Kentucky, Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia and Arkansas - along with growing backing in Ohio, Minnesota, Arizona and Utah.
Manchin, for his part, downplayed the campaign talk during a recent stop in Wheeling.
"You know, it's very flattering that this is getting some traction, but I'm focusing right now on what we can do to make America better, and to get government working for the people," he said during his visit to the Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival.