Jenkins hopes to parlay state’s increasing GOP tilt to unseat venerable Democratic incumbent
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
HUNTINGTON, West Virginia (CFP) — In 2014, GOP U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins toppled a West Virginia political giant to get to Congress. In 2018, he’ll try to be a giant killer again.
Jenkins announced that he is giving up his House seat in an effort to defeat Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, in what is expected to become one of the South’s hottest Senate races.
In a campaign video released May 8, Jenkins went after Machin, accusing him of straying from the values he was elected to represent by supporting Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
“Joe changed when he got to Washington. West Virginia values? Not anymore,” Jenkins said. “Somewhere alone the way, Joe became one of them.”
Jenkins also tied himself firmly to Donald Trump, who won the Mountaineer State by a staggering 41 points in 2016, his second strongest showing in any state, behind only Wyoming.
“With Donald Trump in the White House, we’ve got a real chance to turn things around,” Jenkins said. “He needs our help, and I need your help … We can’t let liberal New York millionaires and D.C. lobbyists buy this race or the Senate.”
Jenkins, 56, was elected in 2014 to represent the 3rd District, which takes in the southern and western parts of the state. In that race, he unseated Nick Rahall, a Democrat who had been in Congress since 1977 and was, like Manchin, a political institution in West Virginia.
Jenkins had served 18 years in the state legislature as a Democrat before switching parties to run against Rahall.
West Virginia’s changing political climate has made Machin is a top Republican target in 2018. In 2014, the GOP captured all three U.S. House seats and a majority in the state legislature for the first time since 1931. In 2016, Shelley Moore Capito became the first Republican to win a U.S. Senate election since 1956.
Trump’s win was also the fifth in a row for Republican presidential candidate, in what had been considered a Democratic stronghold into the 1990s.
However, Machin, 69, is a political institution in West Virginia, where he was first elected to political office in 1982 and was governor for six years before being elected to the Senate in 2010.
Manchin has styled himself as a political moderate, opposing legal abortion, supporting a balanced budget amendment and opposing efforts by the Obama administration to curtail use of coal, which is a mainstay of the West Virginia economy. He also broke ranks with other Democratic senators to support Trump’s Cabinet nominees and his selection of Neil Gorsuch for the U.S. Supreme Clourt.
One question mark in the race will be the issue of gun rights. Although Manchin has long received support from the National Rifle Association, he drew fire from some gun rights advocates after co-sponsoring legislation to strengthen background checks on firearms after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012.
Jenkins took direct aim at Manchin on the gun issue in his opening campaign video, accusing the senator of violating a pledge he made in his first campaign to protect gun rights.
Jenkins’s decision to run against Manchin will open a House seat in West Virginia that could be a potential target for Democrats, although the GOP will be favored.
Jenkins may also have to survive a primary for the right to oppose Manchin, as state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is thought to be eyeing the race.