Joe Manchin's First Foray Into GOP Politics Ends in Stinging Defeat

West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin's endorsement in a Republican primary wasn't enough to sway GOP voters from casting their ballots for former President Donald Trump's candidate instead.

Backed by Trump's endorsement, West Virginia Representative Alex Mooney scored another MAGA victory for Trump after winning the Republican nomination for the state's 2nd Congressional District, with 52 percent of the GOP vote at the time the race was called by the Associated Press.

On Tuesday, Mooney faced off against Representative David McKinley in a rare incumbent-versus-incumbent House race, as a result of redistricting. All but one of McKinley's counties have been absorbed into the newly formed district.

The district, which has been represented by Mooney since 2015, is slightly more conservative and prosperous than the rest of West Virginia. Trump carried the district in both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, with 66 and 65 percent of the vote, respectively.

Although Manchin has remained popular as the only Democrat elected statewide in the Republican stronghold of West Virginia, Tuesday's primary proved that GOP voters were apparently unmoved by the senator's endorsement.

The winner of Tuesday's primary is expected to go on to win the general election in November. There were three other GOP candidates in the House race: Susan Buchser-Lochocki, Rhonda Hercules and Mike Seckman.

Mooney had been poised to win the primary, with a Friday poll from West Virginia MetroNews showing him holding a 15-point lead over McKinley.

Manchin Trump West Virginia
Representative David McKinley, who was endorsed by Senator Joe Manchin, lost a Republican primary in West Virginia against Alex Mooney, a candidate backed by former President Donald Trump, on Tuesday. Above, Manchin is followed to his car by reporters after participating in a vote at the U.S. Capitol on December 14, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Anna Moneymaker/Getty

The contest between Mooney and McKinley received national media attention in the weeks leading up to the Tuesday primary, thanks to the candidates' striking endorsements.

Although Trump backed Mooney, many of the former president's loyalists—including West Virginia Governor Jim Justice and former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—sided with McKinley, along with Manchin.

McKinley took a risky gamble earlier this year when he voted for President Joe Biden's $1.2 trillion infrastructure package—a move for which Trump repeatedly slammed the 75-year-old civil engineer.

Although McKinley voted with Trump more times than Mooney did during his presidency, the GOP kingmaker has seen any bipartisan efforts as a sign of disloyalty. McKinley also voted in favor of the creation of a House committee to investigate the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

McKinley, a seventh-generation West Virginian, ran on a campaign for infrastructure and estimated that Biden's plan would provide his home state with more than $700 million over five years to help reclaim abandoned mine lands, improve water quality and facilitate economic development.

"This is good for West Virginia. This is not a vote for anyone but West Virginia," McKinley told Roll Call at the time.

Stumping for Mooney at a tele-rally last week, Trump said that McKinley "betrayed Republican voters in West Virginia and the great people of West Virginia" with his positions on infrastructure and the January 6 committee.

Despite those criticisms, Justice has praised McKinley for his infrastructure vote, going as far as to say that Trump "made a mistake" on his endorsement.

"Just think about it—what kind of guts did that take to do it?" Justice said of McKinley's infrastructure vote. "At the end of the day, do we not in West Virginia need that?"

In its 2020 report, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave West Virginia a "D" grade on infrastructure.