Manchin would win if he runs again, says Democratic Senate campaign arm head

As Democrats face a difficult Senate landscape in 2024, with 23 seats up for re-election and a handful of vulnerable senators competing in battleground states, Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, the head of the Senate Democratic campaign arm, made it clear the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) will aggressively pursue the races that are tight.

He’s been keeping an eye on West Virginia, where Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin has yet to announce whether he’ll seek another term and has left the door ajar to a potential third-party presidential bid. 

“If Joe Manchin runs, he will win,” Peters told CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett.

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FILE – Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Aug. 16, 2022. Andrew Harnik / AP

Peters says he’s been urging the two-term West Virginia senator to run again — and as a Democrat. Even with Peters’ support, Manchin would likely be running in a tough general election. Rep. Alex Mooney and West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice are both running for the Republican nomination. 

Peters says the leading Republican candidate comes with “a lot of baggage,” referring to Justice, who has faced scrutiny over West Virginia’s Covid vaccine lottery and his family’s coal mining company, which was sued by the Justice Department over unpaid penalties.

Vulnerable Democrats 

In addition to West Virginia, there are at least six other vulnerable Democratic Senate seats that could determine the balance of power in the upper chamber in 2024. Peters noted that presidential battleground states are also Senate battleground states, with the exceptions of Ohio and Montana, races Peters described as “very challenging.”

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown will seek a fourth term in 2024. Republican challengers so far include businessman Bernie Moreno, state Sen. Matt Dolan, and Secretary of State Frank LaRose. Dolan launched an ad blitz hitting Brown on immigration in an attempt to unseat the Ohio Democrat.

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FILE: Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio and chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, speaks during a hearing in Washington, DC, US, on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In Montana, Sen. John Tester also faces GOP challenges from Reps. Matt Rosendale and Ryan Zinke, as well as former Navy SEAL officer Tim Sheehy. NRSC Chair Steve Daines has voiced his support for Sheehy.

Peters believes candidate quality, or the lack of it, will play a role in the 2024 Senate races. 

“I think what really helps us in Arizona is that we have Kari Lake as the likely Republican nominee,” he said, and predicted that “she will do worse in the Senate race than she did in the gubernatorial race.”

Lake seems likely to face off against Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who won her seat as a Democrat in 2018, announced last December she was changing her party affiliation to Independent. Sinema hasn’t yet announced whether she will seek reelection.

Democrats will also have to defend Senate seats in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Michigan, all states Biden won by a single-digit margin in 2020.

Peters joked, “I will assure you as the chair of the DSCC and the senator for Michigan, we will not lose Michigan on my watch.”

While Democrats managed to hold the Senate and even gain a seat in 2022, 2024 may prove more difficult, since Republicans, fighting to gain the majority, must defend just 10 seats in mostly red states.

When asked if Peters would back Democratic candidates in either Texas or Florida over candidates in battleground states, he said, “I will tell every candidate, if you’re gonna win your race, I’m not giving you a penny. If you’re gonna lose your race, I’m not giving you a penny, but if you’re right on the edge and you could go either way, we’re gonna be there with everything we have.”

Watch Major Garrett’s interview with Sen. Gary Peters Wednesday on CBS News’ “America Decides.”