Source: CNN

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice won the state’s Republican US Senate primary, positioning the two-term governor as the clear favorite to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in the deep-red state.

Justice triumphed in a crowded GOP primary that included US Rep. Alex Mooney, a member of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus. He will face Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott, who had Manchin’s endorsement and won the three-way Democratic primary. The West Virginia Senate seat has long been seen as the most likely to flip this cycle and will be key to GOP hopes of winning the Senate this November.

Manchin’s decision to retire was a harsh blow to Democrats’ hopes of retaining their narrow majority in the chamber. The party is also defending seats in two other GOP-leaning states, Montana and Ohio, as well as in swing states such as Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

National Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, largely coalesced in the West Virginia Republican primary around Justice, who was barred by term limits from seeking reelection as governor. Still, in the closing weeks, the Senate contest turned bitter as Justice and Mooney traded sharp jabs on air.

Mooney launched blistering spots accusing Justice of supporting “pro-transgender legislation” and claiming that he “pushed the biggest tax hike in West Virginia history.”

Meanwhile, Justice, the owner of the Greenbrier resort who turned a coal mining business he inherited into a sprawling empire, rebutted some of Mooney’s criticism with testimonials in his ads from West Virginia coal miners. He also ran spots touting Trump’s endorsement and mocking “Mooney and many others” who “want to cling to Trump’s coattail.”

Justice, 73, was elected governor in 2016 as a Democrat but switched his party affiliation early in his first term — a move he announced at an August 2017 rally with Trump.

Though Justice won as a Democrat in 2016 and Manchin was reelected in 2018, West Virginia is a now a heavily Republican state — Trump took more than 68% of the vote there in both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections and Manchin is the lone remaining Democrat to hold nonjudicial statewide office.

The New York Times reported earlier this week that Justice and his companies are facing myriad legal battles over massive, mounting debts, which his business has developed a reputation for not paying.

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