West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin leaves Democratic Party, registers as independent

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a longtime political moderate, on Friday announced he is leaving the Democratic Party and has registered as an independent.

Manchin, who is not running for re-election, will continue to caucus with Senate Democrats until the end of his term, his office confirmed to Fox News Digital, meaning the balance of power in the upper chamber will not change significantly. He is currently chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“From my first day in public service in 1982, I have always focused on doing what’s best for my state and my country, without regard to party or politics. Throughout my days in elected office, I have always been proud of my commitment to common sense, bipartisanship and my desire to bring people together. It’s who I am. It’s who I will always be. I have never seen America through a partisan lens,” Manchin said. 

“However, since becoming a United States Senator in 2010, I have seen both the Democrat and Republican parties leave West Virginia and our country behind for partisan extremism while jeopardizing our democracy. Today, our national politics are broken and neither party is willing to compromise to find common ground. To stay true to myself and remain committed to put country before party, I have decided to register as an independent with no party affiliation and continue to fight for America’s sensible majority.”

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Manchin’s surprise decision comes amid reports that he is being encouraged to run for governor of West Virginia by moderate Republicans dissatisfied with the party’s nominee, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. It also comes ahead of a deadline for filing as an independent in West Virginia. 

Questioned about those reports last week, Manchin downplayed the rumors but would not rule them out. He said the Democratic nominee, Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, is a friend. 

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“I heard that this morning, the rumors. I’ve supported my friend Steve Williams, we’ve known each other for 40 years, got him involved. He’s a good person. I don’t know what’s going on. So basically, I’ll just wait until I go home,” Manchin said. 

The West Virginia MetroNews report quoted sources “close” to the senator who said at least 20 Republicans “with financial resources” have encouraged Manchin to run for governor.

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Since that report was published, Manchin was reportedly bombarded by people urging him to run at an event at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, according to WVMetroNews. The Greenbrier is notably owned by the state’s current governor, Democrat-turned-Republican Jim Justice, who is term-limited and now is the GOP’s Senate nominee to replace Manchin.

“The talk about the possibility of Joe Manchin running for West Virginia governor again is real,” wrote Hoppy Kercheval, a news anchor and one of the state’s most recognizable media figures.

The Democratic primary is over and Manchin could not run for governor as a Democrat. But his sudden and unexpected decision to become an independent opens the door for a bid for the governor’s mansion, or even a re-election effort for Senate. 

Manchin will have several more weeks to decide whether to run for Senate or mount a bid for his old job as governor. 

Fox News’ Julia Johnson contributed to this report.

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