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Senator Joseph ‘‘Joe’’ Anthony Manchin III was born August 24, 1947, in Fairmont. He grew up in the Marion County town of Farmington, where he worked in his grandfather’s store, Manchin Grocery, and his father’s furniture store.

After graduation from Farmington High School in 1965, Joe Manchin went to West Virginia University on a football scholarship, but a knee injury ended his playing days. In 1968, the furniture store burned down, and nine days later, his uncle was killed in the Farmington Mine Disaster. Manchin took one semester off to be with his family and help them rebuild the store as Manchin’s Carpet Center. He graduated in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. After that, he returned to Marion County to operate the carpet store. Later, he became the owner of Enersystems, Inc., an energy-brokering company.

Manchin met his wife, the former Gayle Conelly of Beckley, at WVU. They married August 5, 1967, while still in college. They later became parents to three children: Heather, Joseph IV, and Brooke.

Joe Manchin entered politics in 1982, when he won election to the House of Delegates, where he served one term. In 1986, he was elected to the West Virginia Senate. He won reelection to the Senate in 1988 and 1992. During his Senate years, Manchin promoted reforms in welfare, health care, and Medicaid.

As both a lawmaker and a candidate for higher office, Joe Manchin consistently supported anti-abortion legislation, which put him at odds with official abortion rights positions of the Democratic Party. He also supported legislation that drew opposition from consumer advocates, such as a bill that would have required the use of manufacturers’ parts in auto repairs rather than less expensive ‘‘aftermarket’’ parts. Despite Manchin’s generally conservative credentials, he sometimes opposed attempts to reduce the size of state government. For example, he opposed a plan in 1990 to sell off state-owned liquor stores. In 1994, he threatened a filibuster to block a proposal to sell seven state-owned hospitals, including one in his Senate district. As early as the mid-1980s, there was talk that Manchin might run for governor someday. He decided that the time was right in 1996, when Gaston Caperton was finishing his second term and was constitutionally prohibited from running for a third consecutive term as governor.

Manchin faced a bitter battle for the 1996 Democratic nomination from Charlotte Pritt, who had served with him in the Senate. Manchin was the conservative candidate, backed by business groups as well as the National Rifle Association and West Virginians for Life. Pritt was the liberal candidate, backed by labor. Pritt won. Manchin declined to support her in the November election, which she lost to Republican Cecil Underwood, who picked up many of Manchin’s supporters.

In 2000, Manchin stepped aside to allow fellow Democrat Bob Wise to run for governor. Manchin instead ran for secretary of state and won. In the Democratic primary, he defeated Pritt, who was a late entry in the race, as well as Sen. Mike Oliverio and former Sen. Bobby Nelson. As secretary, he emphasized customer service and attempted to reverse a trend of voter apathy.

But in 2003, even before Governor Wise decided not to seek reelection in the wake of admitting he had been unfaithful in his marriage, Manchin announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2004. In the two months after Wise announced he would not run, Manchin raised almost $1.2 million in donations, which gave him a campaign war chest his opponents could not match when they later entered the race. In the May 2004 primary, he received 52 percent of the vote in defeating former Sen. Lloyd Jackson and lawyer Jim Lees.

Despite having been seen as the business candidate with many labor organizations against him in 1996, Manchin received key labor endorsements in 2004, including those of the AFL-CIO, the United Mine Workers of America, and the West Virginia Education Association. That allowed him to claim that he could pull business, labor, and government together to bring good jobs to West Virginia. Manchin also campaigned on promises to improve the efficiency of government and to avoid raising taxes. He went on to win the election that November over Republican Monty Warner. During his first term, Manchin earned high approval ratings for having paid down West Virginia’s debt, the privatization of workers’ compensation system, and his close supervision of rescue efforts following the January 2006 Sago mine explosion. In 2008, he faced only token opposition in both the primary and general elections and was easily reelected. In 2010, he was again thrust onto the national scene when an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County killed 29 miners.

In 2010, Manchin sought the U. S. Senate seat once held by Robert C. Byrd, and on August 28, 2010, he won the Democratic nomination by soundly defeating two opponents in the primary. He defeated Republican challenger John Raese in the general election on November 2, 2010, and was sworn in as senator on November 15, 2010. On November 6, 2012, he defeated Raese once again for a full six-year term in the Senate. In 2013, Manchin drew national attention when he co-sponsored legislation that would have expanded background checks for gun purchases. In 2018, he was challenged by Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, but he won reelection by nearly 20,000 votes, a major accomplishment in a state where Republican Donald Trump received more than two-thirds of the vote in both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.

During the Trump administration, Manchin twice voted to convict President Donald Trump on impeachment charges; neither effort succeeded in removing the president from office. He did vote to confirm two of Trump’s three picks for the U.S. Supreme Court. He supported justice candidates Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh but voted against Amy Coney Barrett because he felt her nomination occurred too close to the 2020 presidential election. After the 2020 national elections, with Democrat Joe Biden as president and a 50-50 split in the Senate, Manchin’s key swing vote became a point of public discussion and contention when he declined to support some initiatives supported by other Democrats.

In November 2023, with polls showing him trailing potential 2024 Republican challenger Jim Justice by a significant margin, Manchin announced he would not stand for re-election to the Senate. After hinting at a third-party campaign for president, he announced in February 2024 that he would not be a candidate.

Joe Manchin was the first Roman Catholic to be elected governor of West Virginia and the first of Italian descent. He is the scion of a large and energetic Marion County family, active in business, the professions, and politics. For many years his uncle, A. James Manchin, was among the state’s best-known politicians, serving as secretary of state and state treasurer and himself once considered gubernatorial material.

This Article was written by Jim Wallace

Last Revised on February 16, 2024

Cite This Article

Wallace, Jim "Joe Manchin." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 16 February 2024. Web. 17 July 2024.


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