Sen. Joe Manchin leaves the door open to potential third-party presidential run in 2024

(Reagan Mcgregor Hicks/Texas Tribune, Reagan Mcgregor Hicks/Texas Tribune)

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U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin teased a potential third-party presidential run, threatening to throw the 2024 race into question by campaigning as an independent, while speaking at the closing remarks for the 2023 Texas Tribune Festival. Manchin also didn't deny plans to run for reelection as a Democratic senator for West Virginia.

Tribune co-founder Evan Smith attempted to nail down the senator’s 2024 political plans to no avail.

“My filing date isn't until January in West Virginia," Manchin said.

Manchin made the case for a third political party, arguing that an independent candidate could bring together a deeply divided country. One vision Manchin considered was a bipartisan ticket.

“We are in trouble and I’ve never been more concerned about the challenges we have,” he said. Those challenges stem from the polarization of the left and right, Manchin said, with both sides having moved too far to the political extremes.

Manchin decried recent changes in the Democratic party — noting that while he was governor of West Virginia, his party controlled both the state’s House and Senate — which he said left behind Democrats in his home state.

“We’re not good enough, clean enough, smart enough for Democrats in Washington,” he said.

Manchin has been public about his disillusionment with the Democratic Party. Both of Texas’ Senators, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, have publicly encouraged Manchin to become a Republican.

The senator said re-electing former President Donald Trump would be a danger to the country, and lamented how so much of the Republican Party has enmeshed itself with one man.

Smith pointed out that running as a third-party candidate would increase the chance Trump could win, by siphoning votes from President Joe Biden. In 1992, Texas businessman Ross Perot ran as an independent and captured 19% of the vote.

Manchin countered that running as an independent — when nearly a third of the population has negative views of both the Republican and Democratic parties — could be a viable way to address the challenges presented by those divisions.

“I’m not going to take any risk to jeopardize my country and the democracy that we have,” Manchin said of the potential impact of a third-party presidential run. “But to sit back and do nothing and allow the country to keep going this way?”

While Manchin refused to commit to his political future, he did pledge support for term limits for the U.S. Supreme Court and overturning the Citizens United decision, which cleared the way for corporations and other third-party groups to dump unlimited money into elections.

Despite his insistence that neither Democrats or Republicans should be funded by mysterious “dark money” groups, Manchin spoke at a forum for the political reform group No Labels earlier this summer and floated the idea of working with the movement to run as an independent. The No Labels movement has come under criticism for not disclosing its donors.

The Democratic senator, perhaps the most centrist, has been a thorn in the side of his party’s leadership in their attempts to pass key climate and infrastructure legislation.

Manchin's ties to the coal industry have drawn criticism, particularly in light of his reluctance to support environmental policy. A small group of protesters gathered outside The Paramount Theatre, where he spoke Saturday evening, to voice their opposition to Manchin’s lax stance on climate legislation.

Disclosure: Paramount Theatre has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.