Reporter’s Notebook: The Quiet Countdown
January 2020 might be when the actual candidate filings start, but I feel we’re all waiting on Sept. 2, 2019. That’s when my sources say U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin is expected to announce whether he plans to run again for governor.
Manchin could still decide not to, but I do feel like this is all one big self-fulfilling prophesy. It’s something many people want to will into existence, and they just might get their wish. That decision will affect others still debating whether to jump in.
For example, it appears Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is actively campaigning for something. You might say he’s running for re-election, but I’m not so sure yet. For starters, he has filed as an undeclared precandidate. This gives him the ability to raise funds, but wait until January to officially file for a specific office.
Yes, there are other statewide officeholders who filed as undeclared precandidates, but I don’t get the impression they’re running for anything other than their current office. Secretary of State Mac Warner is undeclared, but all the messaging I’ve seen lends me to believe he is running for a second term.
I recall in 2016 Morrisey telling me he had no plans to seek a third term for attorney general. Things could have changed since then. Being an Eastern Panhandle guy who also used to work in D.C., I had always been under the impression he’d rather be back in the Beltway. But his attempt to unseat Manchin in 2018 failed. Another way to get back to D.C. would be a federal judicial appointment, of which I’ve heard rumors.
But in lieu of a U.S. Senate seat or a federal judicial bench, running for governor could be a new challenge for Morrisey. He wanted to do it in 2016, but the powers that be urged everyone to rally around former state Senate President Bill Cole. Cole lost to then-Democrat Jim Justice and Morrisey won a second term against Huntington businessman, newspaper publisher and former delegate Doug Reynolds (I’m also told there are efforts to recruit Reynolds to run for statewide office again).
Morrisey might want to throw his hat in the gubernatorial ring this time. Right now, you have Jim Justice, who only switched back to Republican two years ago. He’s persona non grata with some of the county Republican operatives and activists, though he appears to have the unwavering support of President Donald Trump and his family. Trump also supported Morrisey’s U.S. Senate bid, visiting the state three times, but I think Trump likes Justice more.
You also have Woody Thrasher, another Democrat who switched to Republican shortly before filing for precandidacy in April. The business owner and former commerce secretary shares some of the responsibility for the RISE West Virginia fiasco as well as other issues at commerce. He’s thought to be close to Manchin by some, serving as a spoiler to make Justice “spend it all,” a phrase coined during the 1980 race for governor when Arch Moore challenged Jay Rockefeller to make the millionaire spend all his money.
You also have former Berkeley County delegate Mike Folk, someone who has more of a track record as a registered Republican and a public policy record on Republican conservative issues. He’s been working the roads, going to any county event he can. Being a candidate from a small Eastern Panhandle district and someone who lost a bid for state Senate against an incumbent Democrat, Folk has a lot of work to do to get his name out there.
But Morrisey is someone with statewide name recognition. He has won two statewide races and came close to beating Manchin in a statewide contest for U.S. Senate. He has taken up many cultural conservative issues as attorney general. Morrisey also might be encountering some voter fatigue. It should also be noted that if Manchin gets in the race, he usually gets Republican votes.
I’m not advocating for Morrisey or anyone as much as I’m laying out the pros and cons of a Morrisey candidacy for governor. There is still plenty of time for people to decide.
As an aside, I’m told Thrasher spoke Wednesday at the West Virginia Municipal League’s 50th Annual Conference. If I had known, I would have covered it. I happened to be at the convention Thursday to get pictures of Auditor J.B. McCuskey for my profile story for Sunday and unexpectedly heard Huntington Mayor Steve Williams introduce the governor. Since I was there, I wrote about the governor’s remarks.
I couldn’t help but note that many of the convention attendees were wearing Thrasher Group lanyards around their necks. Thrasher’s engineering company does a lot of work for cities and town, specifically water and sewage treatment systems.