West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice is planning to announce later this week that he is running for Senate, setting up a divisive and costly GOP primary in a top Republican pickup opportunity.
Justice, who cannot run for re-election due to term limits, is expected to announce a Senate run on Thursday at his Greenbrier resort, which was first reported by Politico. A GOP strategist close to Justice confirmed the governor's plans to NBC News.
Justice has been openly considering a Senate run for a few months, and he would be a top candidate given his statewide popularity and his vast personal wealth. But he won’t be alone in the Republican primary.
GOP Rep. Alex Mooney jumped into the race back in November, and he has been endorsed by conservative group Club for Growth. The group’s president, David McIntosh, said earlier this month that the group could spend more than $10 million in the primary.
It’s not clear if former President Donald Trump will endorse in the race. He backed Mooney over former GOP Rep. David McKinley in last year’s 2nd District primary. Mooney recently told NBC News that he is hoping to earn Trump’s endorsement again, but if not, he hopes Trump stays out of the race.
Justice and Trump have a history too, as the governor announced his 2017 decision to leave the Democratic Party to join Republicans at a Trump rally in the state.
West Virginia is a top pickup opportunity for Republicans, since Trump won the state by 39 percentage points in 2020. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin has not yet said if he plans to run for re-election, but he has also been considering a run for president.
Republicans need a net gain of just one or two seats to take control of the Senate, depending on whether the GOP wins the White House, since the vice president casts tie-breaking votes in the Senate.
Even though the Democratic and Republican nominees remain unclear, the race has already attracted outside spending.
One Nation, the non-profit arm of the GOP super PAC Senate Leadership Fund, recently launched a TV ad targeting Manchin. Democrats responded, with Duty and Honor, a non-profit arm of the Democratic group Senate Majority PAC, launching a TV ad labeling Manchin as a “commonsense senator.”