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West Virginia Rep. Evan Jenkins Running for Senate

GOP lawmaker will likely face primary to take on Joe Manchin

West Virginia Rep. Evan Jenkins is running for Senate. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
West Virginia Rep. Evan Jenkins is running for Senate. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Two-term West Virginia Rep. Evan Jenkins announced on Monday he’s running for Senate against Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in 2018. 

The 3rd District Republican will likely face a primary, with Attorney General Patrick Morrisey also expected to join the GOP field soon. 

But Jenkins made his three-minute announcement video all about Manchin. It begins as a standard video with the candidate driving a red pick-up truck through the state, then cuts to 2010 campaign ad footage of Manchin projected onto the scenery. Jenkins cuts in to say, “But Joe changed when he got to Washington. West Virginia values? Not anymore.” 

The Jenkins video is inter-spliced with footage from that 2010 Manchin spot in which Manchin says he’ll “protect your Second Amendment rights.” Jenkins follows up by accusing Manchin of “violating our values and pushing gun control with Barack Obama and the New York liberals.”

The entire first minute of Jenkins’ video is devoted to attacking Manchin on gun rights without ever mentioning the specific background check amendment he co-sponsored with Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Patrick J. Toomey

Jenkins also goes after Manchin for his support of President Barack and Hillary Clinton. “Eight years of being put down and disrespected, left to fend for ourselves while Obama radically transformed America in his image,” Jenkins says. 

West Virginia voted for President Donald Trump by more than 40 points last fall. “With Donald Trump in the White House, we’ve got a real chance to turn things around,” Jenkins says at the end of his video. “He needs your help, and I need your help.”

Jenkins is a former Democratic state senator who switched parties in 2013 to take on long-time Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall. (That was his second partisan switch; up until 1993, he’d been registered as a Republican).

“West Virginia is under attack from President Obama and a Democratic Party that our parents and grandparents would not recognize,” Jenkins when making his 2013 campaign announcement. Jenkins won that race by more than 10 points and won re-election last fall by 44 points. He’d leave behind a safe Republican House seat.  

Jenkins raised $368,000 in the first quarter of this year, ending March with just over $1 million in the bank. Manchin raised $566,000 during the first quarter, ending it with about $2.2 million. 

Jenkins will almost certainly face a primary. A former executive director of the Republican Governors Association has launched a super PAC, 35th PAC, in support of Morrisey.

If Morrisey does get in, expect Jenkins’ previous partisan affiliation to be a big part of the primary debate. “This is a critically important race, and we aren’t going to beat Joe Manchin by running his ‘mini-me’ Evan Jenkins,” Leonardo Alcivar, an adviser to the super PAC, said in a statement Monday afternoon.

Bo Copley, an unemployed coal industry worker who confronted Manchin and Clinton last year, is also expected to challenge Manchin as a Republican. Mentioned less frequently is fellow West Virginia Rep. David McKinley. He told Roll Call late last week he’ll likely make an announcement about his plans this week. 

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the West Virginia Senate race a tossup

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