WHEELING - Frustrated by the ways of Washington and often at odds with leaders of his own party, Sen. Joe Manchin is leaving his options open - including a possible run for his old job as West Virginia governor in 2016.
Manchin, D-W.Va., won't face re-election to his Senate seat until 2018, but a vacancy will open up in the governor's mansion in Charleston sooner than that, when term-limited Democrat Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin leaves office. That has fueled speculation Manchin will seek an early exit from Congress by returning to the office he held from 2005 to 2010.
This week, Manchin was quoted as saying he's "absolutely" considering a run for governor. Manchin was not available for an interview, but staff members did not dispute the report.
"Senator Manchin loved being governor of West Virginia, and has made no secret of his frustration with the partisan gridlock and dysfunction of Washington," Manchin spokesman Jonathan Kott said Thursday. "He is fully committed to his job as senator and fights every day to improve the lives of the people he is honored to represent. Senator Manchin is leaving all his options open for 2016, and will continue to look for the best way to bring common sense to Washington."
The 66-year-old Manchin served as West Virginia's governor from Jan. 17, 2005 until November 15, 2010, winning both the 2004 and 2008 elections by comfortable margins. He was elected in 2010 to fill the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd's seat before winning a full term in 2012.
Since his arrival in the Senate, Manchin has sought the middle ground in clashes between Republicans and Democrats in Congress. That approach has often put him in opposition to Democrat leaders, particularly when it comes to the coal industry's place in the nation's energy policy.
In July, he was the lone Democrat to oppose President Barack Obama's appointment of Gina McCarthy to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and has consistently - though without success - pushed for legislation to curb the EPA's authority to regulate carbon emissions. He's also supported the long-delayed and much-debated Keystone XL Pipeline project.
Manchin has spoken out against the nation's soaring debt, but in December backed a bipartisan budget bill that provided only minimal deficit reduction in order to avert a second partial shutdown of government operations in a matter of a few months. In the controversy over health care reform, he supported a delay in the individual mandate provision of the law but stopped short of calling for its outright repeal as many Republicans have done.
Manchin has also drawn criticism for his efforts to expand background checks for gun buyers, most recently joining with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in revisiting the issue following a shooting at Fort Hood in Texas.
Last year, Manchin and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., crafted the initial background check measure in response to the December 2012 shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. It became one of President Barack Obama's top priorities, but the bill was defeated in the face of opposition from the National Rifle Association and Second Amendment supporters.
Although Tomblin will have served only one full term as governor, he cannot run again in 2016. After serving as acting governor, he won the 2011 special election to serve the rest of Manchin's unexpired term, and West Virginia's constitution prohibits governors from being re-elected after serving during any part of two consecutive terms.
If Manchin were to be elected governor in 2016, he would become the third governor in the state's history to be elected to non-consecutive terms, and only the second to be elected governor three times. Arch Moore Jr. served from 1969-77 and again from 1985-89, while Cecil Underwood served non-consecutive single terms from 1957-61 and 1997-2001.