- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2017

At a campaign rally with President Trump in West Virginia, the state’s Democratic governor announced that he was switching to the Republican Party.

Gov. Jim Justice said that Democrats had walked away form him during the recent legislative session.

“Today, I tell you as West Virginians, I can’t help you any more being a Democratic governor,” he told the huge crowd in an arena in Huntington. “Tomorrow I will be changing my registration to Republican.”

Mr. Justice, a billionaire coal and real estate magnate who ran as a non-politician for governor, said he had a lot in common with Mr. Trump.

“This man and myself are not politicians. We ran to get something done. We ran and gave up part of our lives. We ran and want nothing,” he said. “We ran as our Founding Fathers did years ago, to serve.”

Mr. Trump had promised a “very big announcement” at the event and the governor’s party switch lived up to the hype.

Mr. Justice’s defection will leave Democrats with just 15 governors.

It also bodes badly for Sen. Joe Manchin, who now is one of only two statewide elected Democrats in the solidly red state. Mr. Manchin is up for re-election in 2018, one of 10 Senate Democrats running in states that Mr. Trump carried.

As a result, Mr. Manchin cheered Mr. Trump’s visit.

“The President is coming to West Virginia, and I’m excited he is,” he said in a statement. “I know some Democrats, especially those in Washington, D.C., would not want the President to visit their state. As Americans, we should always be honored to have a President visit our state whoever he or she is regardless of political party.”

Mr. Manchin also voiced support for Mr. Trump’s tax reform effort.

Mr. Trump carried West Virginia with 68 percent of the vote, while Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton took just 26 percent.

It is also the state where Mr. Trump has the highest job-approval rating at 60 percent. West Virginia is one of 17 states where Mr. Trump’s job-approval tops 50 percent, according to Gallup.

The president has been rallying his base to help push his stalled agenda through Congress. Last week, he rallied thousands at an event in Ohio.

In West Virginia, he called for Congress to keep tying to repeal Obamacare, pass major tax reform and initiate a massive infrastructure program — all top agenda items stuck on Capitol Hill.

“Day after day we are keeping the promises we made during the campaign,” Mr. Trump said.

He pointed to the economic bump in West Virginia, where the coal industry has rebounded as he rolled back Obama administration’s environmental policies targeting coal.

“We’ve ended the war on beautiful clean coal,” he said. “American exports of coal already are up nearly 60 percent this year.”

The upbeat speech belied the political challenges Mr. Trump faces in Washington, including a Justice Department special prosecutor who recently impaneled a grand jury to investigate Russia meddling in the presidential race and alleged Trump campaign collusion.

Mr. Trump told the screaming crowd that it the whole thing was a “hoax” by Democrats trying to steal back the presidency.

“They are tying to cheat you out of the leadership you want with a fake story that is demeaning to all of us and most importantly demeaning to our country and demeaning to our Constitution,” he said.

He mocked the contention that Russian helped his campaign.

“Most people know there were no Russians in our campaign. There never were,” Mr. Trump said. “We didn’t win because of Russia. We won because of you.”

“Have you seen any Russians in West Virginia or Ohio or Pennsylvania? Are there any Russians here tonight? Any Russians?” Mr. Trump said. “They can’t beat us at the voting booths so they are trying to cheat you out of the future and the future that you want.”

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