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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Joe Manchin, 3rd Party Candidate?

Air Date: Week of

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin in 2017. From the coal-producing state of West Virginia, Senator Manchin has historically advocated for fossil fuel interests. (Photo: Third Way Think Tank, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A potential third-party presidential run by West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin could influence the outcome of the 2024 election. Inside Climate News reporter Phil McKenna is back on the campaign trail in New Hampshire with this report about Senator Manchin’s support of fossil fuels and the climate concerns of New Hampshire voters.


BELTRAN: So Jenni, there’s a lot of focus on New Hampshire as voters head to the polls to vote in the primary on January 23rd. The purple state has long played a key role during the primaries as well as in the general election.

DOERING: That’s right. It’s a small state so even though it doesn’t offer that many electoral votes, sometimes a handful makes all the difference.

BELTRAN: Exactly. You know, this has played out over the years including in 2000, when George W. Bush ran against Al Gore.

DOERING: Oh yeah, that was the first presidential election I really remember, though it got pretty confusing with all the ballot recounting from those “hanging chads” in Florida.

BELTRAN: Right? But what’s funny is they wouldn’t have even mattered if there had been a different outcome in New Hampshire, with its four electoral votes. And it was actually very close. Bush led Gore in the state by only 7,000 votes. And here’s the kicker: 22,000 New Hampshire voters chose the third party candidate, Ralph Nader of the Green Party. So, many have speculated that if Nader hadn’t run and Gore had picked up just some of those ballots in New Hampshire, Al Gore would have had 270 electoral votes, just enough to win.

DOERING: Wow. Paloma, I think in our two-party dominated system it’s really easy to forget about how much of an effect third parties can have.

BELTRAN: And it could happen again, if West Virginia Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin decides to jump in the presidential race this year as an independent.

DOERING: Yeah, so Inside Climate News reporter Phil McKenna has been back on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, this time following Joe Manchin. Phil?

MCKENNA: Hi, Jenni, hi Paloma. Yep, this week I was at a “Politics and Eggs” breakfast hosted by the New England Council near Manchester, as part of a “listening tour” that Manchin is doing to explore a possible third-party presidential campaign.

BELTRAN: Hmm. ‘Politics and Eggs’ - sounds appetizing, if you have the stomach for politics! What was the mood there?

MCKENNA: Well, this event had a lot of corporate sponsors including TC Energy one of the largest oil and gas pipeline companies in North America and Dominion Energy, a large electric utility company. And it was a pretty friendly crowd with a couple hundred people there. One big question on people’s minds was - is he gonna run?

DOERING: So you mention energy companies partly sponsored the event, how much did climate factor in?

MCKENNA: Well, there was one person, a retiree not from the corporate sector who raised the issue of climate change. Roger Stephenson spent his career with the Union of Concerned Scientists and the League of Conservation Voters.

STEPHENSON: One thing you did say is you would, at one point, wage an unrelenting fight against the Biden administration’s efforts to implement the IRA as a radical climate agenda. Can you explain how New Hampshire communities that are vulnerable to increasing damaging flooding, such as Hampton this week, Dover, Portsmouth, as well as low-income and underserved communities all along our most vulnerable coasts can reduce and respond to climate impacts without the IRA.

MANCHIN: Sure. Well, let me just tell you this. The IRA is probably the most, I think, prolific piece of legislation we’ve ever had as far as moving both agendas in the climate. As I’ve said before, we’re all responsible for the climate, and I take it very seriously. We’re using, the world is using and it’s called global climate not New Hampshire climate not West Virginia climate or United States climate, it’s global climate. If you look at what’s happening in the world, we’ve been decreasing, and we can do it more than any other country. I’ve always said you cannot eliminate your way to a cleaner climate. You can innovate, if you want the world to follow.

BELTRAN: So, by “innovate” does he mean we should focus more on technology?

MCKENNA: Well, Senator Manchin wants the priority to be on cutting carbon emissions through things like carbon capture and storage. And in fact he wants us to be energy secure through the continued use of fossil fuels.

MANCHIN: But there’s my friends on the far left who believe they can eliminate. Stop using this, stop using that, stop using. That’s not going to happen. 90% of all pollution will come from one continent, Asia, in the next ten years.

MCKENNA: So he’s saying in comparison, our emissions here in the U.S. are going to be a drop in the bucket. But he’s getting a lot of pushback for his pro-fossil fuels stance. Later that day, after “Politics and Eggs” there was a “Cup of Joe” meet-and-greet in Derry where some climate activists from the group Climate Defiance surrounded the Senator, they got right up in his face.

ACTIVISTS: [CHANTING] Off fossil fuels, Manchin, off fossil fuels!

DOERING: Oh wow. Sounds like these protesters mean business.

MCKENNA: Yeah, at first Manchin tried to engage the protesters, he said, okay, let’s talk. But they just kept chanting and all he could do was kind of smile and shrug it off. The protesters completely disrupted the event for a few minutes before they were escorted out by police.

BELTRAN: Of course, as a politician from coal-rich West Virginia fossil fuels have been pretty central to Senator Manchin’s career, right?

MCKENNA: Yeah Paloma, as you know he’s been an outspoken supporter of coal, oil and other fossil fuels even as the Democratic party as a whole wants to phase them out. He chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is the largest recipient of oil and gas money in all of Congress. In 2022 alone he received almost $780,000 dollars in campaign finance from the oil and gas industry according to the nonprofit Open Secrets. He has also made millions of dollars over the decades from a coal brokerage company he founded before entering politics. Back in 2010 he literally shot a hole in a climate bill in a campaign ad.

DOERING: Wow! And I do remember there was a lot of back and forth between Senator Manchin and the Biden administration when drafting and voting on the Inflation Reduction Act.

MCKENNA: Yeah, that’s right and now that the IRA is being implemented that back and forth continues. At a hearing last week, Senator Manchin threatened to sue the administration for putting too much emphasis on clean energy incentives and not enough on energy security.

BELTRAN: So Phil, what else did other New Hampshire voters have to say about the climate crisis and elections?

MCKENNA: Well, you heard that question at the breakfast event and the reference to recent flooding in the beach town of Hampton, New Hampshire. I decided to go there to hear what people had to say. I spoke to Steve Deshaies, the owner of Ocean Cycles and Board Shop in Hampton Beach. He sells skis and ice skates but isn’t selling much of anything this winter.

DESHAIES: We're getting rain, and we're getting warm weather. And I mean, like, it's totally killed the business. You know, our sales are probably off 80%.

Inside Climate News writer Phil McKenna (Photo: Courtesy of Phil McKenna)

MCKENNA: He had water enter his shop floor on Wednesday and again on Saturday, he told me that it was the worst he has seen in the nearly 30 years he has been there.

DESHAIES: It came into building you can see if you look under the bench, you can see seaweed. Yeah, the water was right up to the door. What happened, that was like probably about three quarters of the way through the high tide. And then the fire truck drove by it just sent this big wave right across the right across the sidewalk and bang.

MCKENNA: And Steve Deshaies said he doesn’t have flood insurance.

DOERING: Phil, did he say anything about whether he thinks climate change is related?

MCKENNA: He said he isn’t sure if climate change is to blame, but if it is, he said it’s too late to do anything about it. He didn’t think Manchin, if he decides to run, had a chance against Trump and would likely vote for the former president.

BELTRAN: Mmm, and what about the other folks you spoke with, what did they have to say about the flooding?

MCKENNA: I spoke to Charlotte Brown, who avoided the downtown area completely, since everything had to be shut down.

BROWN: I think a lot of it has to do with climate change. But I think some of its infrastructure. You know, but I think a lot of the worst part of it is from climate change. Absolutely. I think climate is a huge issue. And if we don't start addressing it, we're not going to have the opportunity to address it properly.

MCKENNA: Charlotte told me that she’s an independent who will not vote in the Republican Primary. She says we have to do something about climate, but she’s not sure who she will vote for in the general election.

DOERING: So, it sounds like a lot of the folks you spoke to are living the reality of the climate crisis, but we’ll have to see how that translates to the ballot box. I guess Senator Manchin hasn’t made up his mind yet about running for president, but what could a Manchin campaign mean in the general election?

MCKENNA: Well, there are questions about vote splitting. Past isn’t necessarily prologue but if you remember 2000, George W. Bush narrowly won New Hampshire over Al Gore. Thousands of votes that might have gone to Gore went instead to Ralph Nader of the Green Party, potentially changing the outcome of the election both in New Hampshire and the country. And some may be wondering, or even hoping, if Senator Manchin could have a similar effect and tip the election in one direction or another.

BELTRAN: Well, keep us posted, Phil, and thanks! Phil McKenna reports for Inside Climate News.

MCKENNA: Thanks Paloma, thanks Jenni. Talk to you next time.



Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) on Energy and Natural Resources

Read more of Phil McKenna’s articles for Inside Climate News

Listen to our previous coverage of the 2024 Presidential Election with Phil McKenna


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