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He says he's not campaigning, so what is Joe Manchin doing in New Hampshire?

Joe Manchin in New Hampshire meeting voters
Joe Manchin in New Hampshire amid speculation about possible 2024 bid 04:25

Manchester, New Hampshire — It's presidential primary season, and less than two weeks before the New Hampshire primary, while politicians are trekking across the state asking for votes, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin is here, too. 

He's not on either major party's primary ballot, but he's not exactly ruling out running for president, and he was in Manchester Friday talking to voters. 

"I'm not here campaigning. I'm here basically, concerned about my country, same as you," Manchin told a room of donors and local political leaders at St. Anselm College, at the first of two events featuring the longtime West Virginia Democrat. "Wherever life takes me, I'm willing to do, but I'm gonna give everything I have to save the country."

Manchin, who announced earlier this year he would not seek reelection to his Senate seat, headed to New Hampshire to start a national "listening tour" along with his daughter, Heather Manchin Bresch, as they launch their centrist political group, Americans Together, aimed at pushing major political donors into promoting more moderate-leaning candidates and policies.

He said he'd consider a third-party run if President Biden and former President Donald Trump win their respective parties' presidential nominations. When an attendee at St. Anselm asked Manchin who he'd vote for in a 2020 rematch, Manchin responded, "That's a difficult question right there."

Politics & Eggs With Senator Joe Manchin
Senator Joe Manchin in Manchester, New Hampshire on Friday, Jan. 12, 2024.  Bloomberg / Getty Images

"You have to make a decision, the character of that candidate, whether you agree or disagree, whether you support or haven't supported, whether you're in the same political party or not," Manchin said. "The people that are just telling me I'm going to vote for the Democrat because I'm a Democrat. I'm going to vote Republican, no matter who it is. That's bullcrap. Vote for the person. Vote for the best person that should be leading this country."

One man asked him, "How would you feel if a bunch of Democrats in New Hampshire wrote in 'Joe' — not Biden, but wrote in 'Joe Manchin'?" 

"I cannot prevent whatever you want to do," Manchin replied, receiving a round of applause from the donor-filled crowd.

He provided scant detail to reporters about the next stops on his listening tour, saying, "I have to talk to my daughter, I have still a job to do, and she tells me when I can go wherever my schedule allows."

He seemed to distance himself from No Labels, the bipartisan group that's working to get a potential third-party candidate on the ballot in November, while promoting his daughter's venture. 

"I still believe that the cause is worthy of trying to find that middle and give you a venue. Americans Together has basically stepped forward. We're completely different and not connected in any way, shape, or form" Manchin said, adding, "If it has an impact or not, I don't know. We're gonna find out. But it's not the short game."

"I think it's admirable what they're trying to do to provide an option," Manchin continued when speaking with reporters after his remarks. He opined that No Labels — or any other group — would have to launch its campaign with a candidate attached by Super Tuesday, March 5.

Sen. Joe Manchin doesn't rule out 2024 White House bid 03:01

Manchin's listening tour wasn't without drama.

At his second stop, a diner in Derry, Manchin was greeted by a handful of New Hampshire voters, as well as a group of college students from Minnesota who are living in New Hampshire through the state's primary on Jan. 23. 

As he began speaking to the small crowd in a back room, he was blitzed by activists from the group Climate Defiance, who protested at both Manchin events today. 

Police intervened after dozens of protesters rushed the event space chanting "Off fossil fuels, Manchin, off fossil fuels!" After a few minutes, they were escorted out of the room.

Manchin, who grew up in a coal-mining town in West Virginia, has fought for continued oil pipeline and energy development in the U.S. 

Manchin and his daughter announced the formation of Americans Together in August, and they conceived of it as a centrist political group that would work on curbing federal spending, boosting domestic energy production, tightening border security and fighting crime.

Manchin Bresch, the first woman to run a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company, stepped down as CEO of Mylan, the maker of EpiPen, in 2020. She told the Wall Street Journal in August that Americans Together would be a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, which means that it is not required to disclose its donors.

Hunter Woodall and Ed O'Keefe contributed reporting.

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