Throughout an eyebrow-raising go to to New Hampshire on Friday, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia name-checked buddies who’re elected officers within the Granite State and complimented the discerning nature of its voters.
He paid homage to the state’s first-in-the-nation main custom and swiped at President Biden’s decision to undercut New Hampshire’s power on this yr’s Democratic contest.
And when pressed on his personal ambitions, the conservative Democratic senator provided a message that would-be candidates have usually deployed as they flirt with this traditionally influential early-voting state: He declined to rule something out.
“How would you’re feeling if a bunch of Democrats in New Hampshire wrote in ‘Joe’ — not Biden — however wrote in ‘Joe Manchin’?” an attendee requested as Mr. Manchin kicked off a “listening tour” at Politics and Eggs, an occasion sequence on the New Hampshire Institute of Politics that has lengthy hosted presidential candidates and potential contenders.
“I can’t forestall no matter you wish to do,” Mr. Manchin replied to applause from the viewers in Manchester, N.H., earlier than insisting that he was “not right here campaigning.”
The query of what Mr. Manchin needs to do has lengthy infuriated and confounded lots of his Democratic colleagues in Washington, who’ve usually seen him as a roadblock to their legislative agenda, whilst he has performed a pivotal position in finally passing key priorities.
Now, Mr. Manchin — recognized for a love of the highlight that stands out even amongst U.S. senators — is stoking new questions on his subsequent steps.
Hypothesis has grown about whether or not he may embark on a late, long-shot presidential bid this yr, and he has attracted interest from No Labels, a centrist group that’s looking for a “unity ticket” to mount a possible third-party bid. Democratic allies of Mr. Biden are trying to stave off such efforts.
“He actually deserves most severe consideration from No Labels as a result of he’s a part of our motion” if he’s serious about a third-party bid, mentioned former Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, the founding chairman of the group. He mentioned he had spoken with Mr. Manchin after the senator announced in November that he would not seek re-election. “He’s walked the centrist, bipartisan, problem-solving stroll.”
(Mr. Lieberman has additionally talked up a run by former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who dropped out of the Republican presidential race this week. However he mentioned on Thursday that whereas Mr. Christie had many followers at No Labels, the final time he had personally spoken to him was in all probability “at a Mets sport final summer time.”)
Mr. Manchin didn’t supply a ringing endorsement of the group’s plans when requested on Friday concerning the electoral potential of such a bid.
“It’s admirable what they’re making an attempt to do to supply an possibility. OK, they’re working very exhausting in the direction of that, and their greatest intentions are to convey folks collectively,” he mentioned, noting his longtime involvement with the group. Pressed once more on the query of viability, he replied: “I don’t know. I imply, you need to — the folks resolve that. I feel by Tremendous Tuesday, you’ll know what’s occurring.”
Mr. Manchin has began a company together with his daughter referred to as People Collectively, designed to raise reasonable voices — the “accountable, wise, common sense center,” he mentioned on Friday — whom he casts as usually politically homeless. The New Hampshire swing was the primary cease on what his workforce has referred to as a listening tour, however he emphasised that his group was “utterly completely different” from No Labels.
All through his appearances — on the breakfast, in talking with reporters and at a diner the place he was trailed by climate-focused protesters — Mr. Manchin denounced the far proper and the far left (although any notion that Mr. Biden falls near that class is risible to his many left-wing detractors).
He additionally repeatedly declined to say whether or not he would help Mr. Biden over former President Donald J. Trump in a November matchup, although he has mentioned prior to now that he will not back Mr. Trump.
“I’m not choosing something proper now till we see what we have now,” he mentioned, although he later allowed in an interview that he was “completely snug with Biden’s character.” He added: “Do I agree with the politics? Not the entire time.”
He additionally nodded to current polls which have proven Mr. Biden struggling, calling them “alarming,” including, “It’s alarming. The entire thing is alarming, from a standpoint, how shut it may be once more, the way it may even flip to a unique course.”
Democrats fear that third-party bids might siphon votes from Mr. Biden and hand the election to Mr. Trump if he’s the Republican nominee. Matt Bennett, a founding father of the center-left group Third Manner, who has been engaged in efforts to dam third-party and impartial candidates, expressed optimism that Mr. Manchin wouldn’t go that route. Mr. Manchin, for his half, has insisted that he has no real interest in being a “spoiler.”
“Joe Manchin is on a listening tour to speak to voters concerning the worth of reasonable concepts, and we expect that’s incredible,” Mr. Bennett mentioned in a textual content message. “We predict it’s good for him to have began in N.H. and get the eye from the enormous political press corps there. We all know he hasn’t made a closing resolution on operating for president, however we’re assured that he gained’t.”
Mr. Manchin advised on Friday that the nation was serious about extra choices, however appeared uncomfortable straight partaking in discuss of a third-party bid himself, saying vaguely at one level, “There is likely to be extra selections. There is likely to be completely different selections. We simply don’t know but.”
“I’m searching for, how do you convey the nation collectively, how can we get folks concerned? And if that’s a choice to make, I’ll stay with no matter resolution,” he mentioned in an interview.
As he wrapped up glad-handing on the diner in Derry, the place he instructed a Republican fan that he didn’t know if he would run, a reporter requested if he might title one factor that appealed to him a few third-party bid and one factor that may give him pause.
The often voluble senator smiled, declared that he was there to convey People collectively and walked away.