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GOP Gov. Jim Justice Set to Launch Bid for Joe Manchin's Senate Seat in West Virginia This Week

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  • West Virginia's Republican Gov. Jim Justice is gearing up to launch a 2024 Senate campaign this week.
  • Top Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have courted Justice to mount a challenge to incumbent Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.
  • Rep. Alex Mooney, who was backed by former President Donald Trump in his most recent House election, has already launched his own Senate bid.

West Virginia's Republican Gov. Jim Justice is gearing up to launch a 2024 Senate campaign this week, mounting a possible challenge to Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in one of the country's most important Senate races, a Republican source close to the governor told CNBC on Monday.

Justice is set to make the announcement Thursday at 5 p.m. ET at The Greenbrier, his luxury hotel in White Sulphur Springs, the source said, confirming earlier reporting by Politico. The event is taking place on Justice's 72nd birthday.

The long-anticipated move by Justice, who switched parties in 2017 and has since become one of the deep-red state's most popular politicians, could further imperil Democrats' efforts to keep their slim 51-49 majority in the Senate. West Virginia offers the GOP perhaps its best chance to flip a Democratic seat next year.

Justice will be joined at Thursday's event by a crowd of family, friends, business associates and others from across the state, the GOP source said, adding that other senators may also attend the event. Justice's three-and-a-half-year-old English bulldog, Babydog, is also expected to be a prominent part of the Senate campaign, the source confirmed.

On the campaign trail, Justice plans to criticize the Biden administration while contrasting himself with both Manchin and declared GOP candidate Rep. Alex Mooney, the source said.

Manchin, one of the Senate's most conservative Democrats, has said he won't decide whether to run for reelection until closer to the end of the year, regardless of Justice's plans. Justice's team believes a Senate bid by the governor could make Manchin less likely to seek reelection, the GOP source told CNBC last month.

To face Manchin or another possible Democratic candidate, Justice would first have to win the state's Republican primary, where Mooney has already won a $10 million pledge from the conservative Club for Growth. Former President Donald Trump, who is deeply popular in West Virginia, backed Mooney in his most recent House election.

Mooney's campaign manager, John Findlay, on Monday called Justice's planned Senate bid a "terrible idea."

"Jim Justice has a liberal record. Republican primary voters will soon see he is a Democrat in sheep's clothing," Findlay said in a statement to CNBC.

Meanwhile, national Republicans have seen Justice, reportedly his state's wealthiest resident, as a top recruit in their bid to win the seat.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have encouraged Justice to run for the seat. He is term-limited from running for governor again.

Spokespeople for Manchin did not immediately respond to CNBC's requests for comment on Justice's announcement plans.

If Manchin decides not to run for a third term, Democrats will face a significantly more daunting challenge keeping the seat from whichever Republican nominee emerges from the primary.

But victory is hardly a guarantee for Manchin if he runs again. Despite his incumbent advantage, hefty war chest and reputation for breaking with fellow Democrats, Manchin's party affiliation may be too great an obstacle to overcome in a state that voted for Trump by nearly 40 points in 2020.

Manchin won his last Senate race in 2018 by just 3 percentage points.

Justice is set to announce his Senate bid at his own resort, furthering intermingling the governor's business and politics. That dynamic came under scrutiny in a 2019 ProPublica investigation and garnered criticism from Manchin.

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