BREAKING: West Virginia Governor Jim Justice Switches from Democrat to Republican

BREAKING: West Virginia Governor Jim Justice Switches from Democrat to Republican

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Eric Lendrum, Politics Contributor

In a stunning and rare occurrence for today’s polarized political climate, a major elected official in the United States has announced that he is switching party affiliations. Governor Jim Justice of West Virginia, who was elected in 2016 as a Democrat, has reportedly switched to the Republican Party, according to the New York Times.

The 66-year-old Justice had never run for office before prior to 2016, and instead was a businessman for most of his life. He owned a number of different companies across the state, including the luxury resort Greenbrier. His net worth, according to Forbes, is $1.6 billion. He only joined the Democratic Party after announcing his gubernatorial bid in 2015. He won the Democratic nomination in a landslide with over 51% of the votes, and then defeated Republican Bill Cole in the general election by 7% (49% to 42%).

Elected as a Democrat in a state that has not gone blue in a presidential election since 1996, Justice continued the state’s tradition of being a very conservative Democrat in many of his positions, even declining to endorse Hillary Clinton in 2016. This trend has resulted in a strange dichotomy for the state: While it has consistently voted red by double-digits in every presidential election since 2004, Democrats have managed to hold the governor’s seat in every election since 2000, when Republican Cecil Underwood was ousted by Democrat Bob Wise.

West Virginia has also seen a number of conservative Democrats in the Senate, not the least of which includes its current senior Senator Joe Manchin, himself a former Governor of the state. As a pro-coal and pro-Second Amendment Democrat, Manchin has repeatedly broken ranks with his party to side with the Republicans; most recently, he was one of only a few Democrats to vote in favor of Trump’s Cabinet nominees Scott Pruitt and Rex Tillerson, and was the only Democrat to vote in favor of Jeff Sessions and Steven Mnuchin. Manchin was also at the center of numerous party-switching rumors due to his conservative record, but ultimately ruled out such a switch.

Justice’s switch thus puts the West Virginia governorship back into the red column for the first time since 2001, and marks the latest swing of a statewide office from blue to red, after Republican Shelley Moore Capito took the Senate seat vacated by Democrat Jay Rockefeller in 2014.

The New York Times’ sources say that Governor Justice is set to make the announcement later Thursday night at a rally in Huntington, with President Trump at his side. This visual should have strong implications for the reasons behind the party switch (President Trump won the state in 2016 by 42%, the largest margin in the state’s history), as well as a veiled shot across the bow at Manchin, who is up for reelection next year. His seat is one of ten Democratic seats up for reelection in 2018 in a state that was won by President Trump in 2016.

You can follow the author on Twitter: @EricLendrum26.

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