Axelrod told CNN, "There's nowhere for him to go. He's got a popular Republican governor in the state that Donald Trump carried by almost 40 points. He didn't win by very much last time. So, he knows that he can't win reelection in that state."
East Carolina University's poll, however, found that if the GOP nominee is far-right Rep. Alex Mooney (R-West Virginia), Manchin would have only a 1 percent disadvantage. So, Justice is clearly the possible nominee who worries Democrats the most.
But in an article published on June 6, The Hill's Alexander Bolton stresses that Democrats who have worked closely with Manchin don't share Axelrod's pessimism.
Democratic strategist and former Manchin aide Jonathan Kott told The Hill, "David Axelrod doesn't know a lot about West Virginia politics and is a brilliant strategist, but probably doesn't spend much time in West Virginia with Joe Manchin and should before he counts him out."
Kott and another Democratic strategist, Mike Plante, both stressed that Justice won't necessarily be the nominee. According to Bolton, Kott argues that pundits in Washington, D.C. don't realize how tough Justice's path to the nomination is. And Plante told The Hill that Axelrod "assumes Justice is going to be the nominee."
Justice is conservative, but some Republicans insist that he isn't far enough to the right. The anti-tax Club For Growth, Bolton notes, has donated "as much as $10 million" to Mooney's campaign.
Plante told The Hill, "The governor commands the bully pulpit here and has utilized that to his advantage, but there's still a lot of game left to play before we get to the primary. It's way early in the game to be prognosticating who's going to be the nominee for the Republicans."
Manchin's centrist voting record has been a frequent source of frustration to the liberal/progressive wing of his party. But in deep red West Virginia, he has a long history of winning statewide races.
Manchin, now 75, served as West Virginia secretary of state and later, governor, before winning his U.S. Senate seat via a special election in 2010. He was reelected in 2012 and 2018.