- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 7, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin says it’s “about a 50-50 toss-up” whether he will make a return bid at governor next year.

His decision will come by Memorial Day at the latest, the Democrat said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press covering several topics.

Here is a look at what the senator discussed:

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GOVERNOR RUN

Manchin says his gubernatorial decision depends partly on shake-ups in Washington: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s impending retirement, other retirements, the 2016 presidential race and other variables, he said.

Manchin has said stagnation in Congress spurred him to start considering other options. In the new Republican Congress, Manchin called having an open process with amendments and more voting an “encouragement.”

Lawmakers still get bogged down in the political process, however, he said.

Manchin is evaluating the state landscape, where the Legislature recently finished its first session under Republican control in more than eight decades.

On the Republican side, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, state Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, and U.S. Rep. David McKinley have expressed interest in running.

State Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, has opened a pre-candidacy campaign account for governor.

Manchin, a two-term governor before first winning his Senate seat in 2010, said his decision shouldn’t affect other candidates, and vice versa. He’s up for Senate re-election in 2018.

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COAL SAFETY

Manchin said he is “very much concerned” about a new state law scaling back coal mine safety regulations.

“We’ve been through too many disasters in West Virginia to throw caution to the wind on safety,” Manchin said.

The law trims coal mine safety and environmental standards, ranging from allowing rail track to stop farther from work sites in mines to shielding coal mine companies from some Clean Water Act lawsuits.

The bill, backed by the West Virginia Coal Association, passed the Republican Legislature with some Democratic support.

Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed it, urging state mine safety officials to craft rules about moving equipment underground.

Environmental groups and the United Mine Workers of America opposed it.

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CONCEALED CARRY

Again facing heat from the gun lobby, Manchin criticized the National Rifle Association, saying it has shifted priorities.

“I’m still a proud member of the NRA, because I think NRA was started for the right reason,” Manchin said. “It was promoting gun safety and gun culture. It’s moved from that now to be big business.”

The NRA has been critical of Manchin’s opposition of a state push to drop permitting requirements to carry a concealed handgun. Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed the measure, citing public safety concerns and outcry from the law enforcement community.

Manchin says there wasn’t public outcry for the change, which would have eliminated required safety training.

The Republican-led Legislature cleared the bill with some Democratic support.

Manchin last butted heads with the NRA on a failed federal bill to expand background checks.

He previously earned A ratings with the NRA.

“If they weren’t afraid, (the NRA) would go ahead and poll their members,” Manchin said of concealed carry permit and expanded background check policies.

Chris Cox, executive director of NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, responded in an email: “The NRA is more popular than Joe Manchin in West Virginia.”

Cox contended that Manchin “pushes the agenda of an anti-gun, anti-coal billionaire from New York City,” referring to the city’s former mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

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