During an eyebrow-raising visit to New Hampshire on Friday, Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia name-checked his friends who are elected officials in the Granite State and complimented the perceptive nature of his constituents .
He paid tribute to the state’s premier primary tradition and criticized President Biden’s decision to undermine New Hampshire’s power in this year’s Democratic contest.
And when pressed about his own ambitions, the conservative Democratic senator delivered a message that potential candidates have often deployed when flirting with this traditionally influential, early-voting state: He refused to rule out anything.
“How would you feel if a group of New Hampshire Democrats wrote as “Joe” – not Biden – but wrote as “Joe Manchin”? asked one attendee as Mr. Manchin launched a “listening tour” at Politics and Eggs, a series of events at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics that has long hosted presidential candidates and potential challengers.
“I can’t stop everything you want to do,” Mr. Manchin responded to applause from the audience in Manchester, New Hampshire, before insisting that he “wasn’t here to campaign.” .
The question of what Mr. Manchin wants to do has long exasperated and confounded his Democratic colleagues in Washington, who have often viewed him as an obstacle to their legislative agenda, even though he played a central role in passing the key priorities.
Now Mr. Manchin — known for his love of the spotlight that stands out even among U.S. senators — is sparking new questions about his next steps.
Speculation is growing about whether he might embark on a late, long-shot presidential bid this year, and he has attracted interest from No Labels, a centrist group seeking a “unity ticket” to rise a potential third-party application. Mr. Biden’s Democratic allies are trying to thwart such efforts.
“He really deserves the most serious attention from No Labels because he is part of our movement” if he is interested in a third-party bid, said former Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, founding president of the group, who said he spoke with Mr. Manchin after the senator announced in November that he would not run for reelection. “He followed the centrist, bipartisan, problem-solving path.”
But the senator stopped short of resounding support for the group’s plans when asked Friday about the electoral potential of such a candidacy.
“It’s admirable what they’re trying to do to provide an option.” OK, they are working very hard towards this, and their best intentions are to bring people together,” he said, noting his long-standing involvement with the group. Pressed again on the question of viability, he replied: “I don’t know. I mean, it has to be done – people decide. I think by Super Tuesday you’ll know what’s going on.
Mr. Manchin started an organization with his daughter called Americans Together, designed to elevate moderate voices. The New Hampshire swing was the first stop on what his team called a listening tour — but he stressed that his band was “completely different” from No Labels.
Throughout his appearances — at breakfast, speaking with reporters and at a dinner where he was followed by climate-focused protesters — Mr. Manchin denounced the far right and the far left ( although any notion that Mr. Biden comes close to that category is laughable to his many left-wing detractors).
He suggested the country was interested in more options, but seemed uncomfortable engaging in discussions over a third-party offer itself.
“I’m looking at, how do we bring the country together, how do we get people involved? And if it’s a decision to make, I will live with any decision,” he said in an interview.
As he wound up celebrating at the Derry restaurant, where he told a Republican fan he didn’t know if he would run, a reporter asked him if he could name one thing that appealed to him about a third party offer and another. something that would make him think.
The usually voluble senator smiled, declared he was there to rally the Americans, and walked away.