Since coming to the White House in January 2021, Joe Biden has always had a Democratic majority in the Senate. That said, there are different types of majorities, and in the Senate, it has always been somewhat slim. It survived the first two years with Kamala Harris as a way to break the 50-50 tie, but since the election, they have had one more seat, shaping the current 51-49 in favor of the Democrats. However, two senators may turn their votes slightly red as their elections loom.
Joe Manchin and Jon Tester are characterized as among the most moderate Democrats in the Upper House, and they have reason to be. Both represent traditionally Republican states, West Virginia and Montana, respectively. Voters in these states chose Donald Trump over Joe Biden in 2020 by nearly 40% to 16%. Somehow, both men have acquired the habit of dyeing these states blue once every six years.
Manchin first came to the Senate in 2010 to replace the late Robert Byrd and has since faced the ballot box twice. Tester arrived in DC a little earlier after defeating Republican incumbent Conrad Burns in 2006. Notably, both faced their last election in 2018 and had to moderate further to answer to their voters. For 2024, they are expected to use the same tactic.
The strategy of moderation in the face of reelection
The 115th Congress took place between January 2017 and January 2019. With the polls scheduled for November 2018, both had a year and 11 months to showcase their voting moderation. During this period, the senator from West Virginia voted with President Trump 60.7% of the time, a statistic cut nearly in half during the next Congress, to 32 6%.
In addition, he voted in favor of the two judges that the former head of state nominated to the Supreme Court of Justice (SCOTUS), Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. In the case of the first justice, he joined other Democrats who also represented red states, such as Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota) and Joe Donnelly (Indiana). In contrast, in the case of Kavanaugh, he was the only Democratic senator to vote in favor.
Machin has not yet decided on what to do in 2024. He did not rule out another Senate candidacy or a presidential run. For now, he will face a strong challenger in Jim Justice, the West Virginia Governor, who has already launched his candidacy for the Senate.
Tester used the same modus operandi as his colleague. During the 115th Congress, 38.1% of the time he voted for Trump’s proposals, then dropped that number to 16.3% over the next two years. The Montana senator has already announced he will seek reelection, complicating the task of Republicans in the state, who have failed to defeat him in 2012 and 2018.
Looking ahead to 2024, the plan is already underway. Tester vowed to block Biden administration nominees to the Amtrak board, while Manchin went even further. During his appearance on Hannity on Fox News, he threatened to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act on his own if the administration continued to “liberalize what we’re supposed to be investing in for the next ten years.”
Together they have the power to destroy the slim Democratic majority in the Senate and are expected, as they did on the eve of the 2018 election, to further moderate their voting on Capitol Hill to please their constituents.
“It always helps you with voters when you show them that the only thing you’re doing in Washington is fighting for your home state, whether that’s in Montana or West Virginia. It shows they’re literally willing to do whatever it takes to get their message through to whoever needs to hear it, whether that means the administration, leadership, whoever,” lobbyist and former advisor to Manchin, Jon Kott, opined on the matter.