- Associated Press - Friday, September 29, 2017

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (AP) - Gov. Jim Justice said Friday he hasn’t yet endorsed anyone for next year’s race for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Joe Manchin.

Elected last year as a Democrat with Manchin’s support, Justice recently switched to the Republican Party - an announcement he made with President Donald Trump at a Charleston rally in August.

At a meeting with West Virginia’s Republican lawmakers on Sept. 18, Justice was urged to help beat Manchin, who is seeking re-election. Justice instead praised Manchin as a friend who is also Trump’s liaison with the Democrats. That led to some media reports speculating that he was supporting Manchin’s re-election.

The governor also said at that meeting that he likes two of Manchin’s Republican opponents, Congressman Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

Speaking with reporters Friday, Justice said he probably won’t endorse anyone until next year at an appropriate time. As governor, he currently works with Manchin, Jenkins and Morrisey in their current roles, he said.

West Virginia’s Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas, who attended the September meeting, said he heard what Justice said and believes that when the time comes that both Trump and Justice will back the Republican candidate chosen to run against Manchin.

The Republican candidate will emerge after a primary in what some campaign strategists say could be an expensive run with national interest. Republicans now hold a narrow 52-48 advantage in the Senate. Jenkins and Morrisey are each raising money and supported by a superpac.

Manchin said he appreciates support from Republicans and Democrats, saying partisan political gridlock in Washington is hurting people.

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