File-Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., walks to a caucus lunch at the Capitol in recently. Manchin said Sunday he cannot back a $2 trillion social safety net bill, dealing a potentially fatal blow to President Joe Biden’s signature legislation. 

(The Center Square) – West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin has wielded a lot of power as the most centrist senator in an evenly split chamber, but the final outcome of the 2022 elections could determine how much sway he has moving forward.

Democrats and Republicans both hold 50 seats in the Senate, but the Democratic Party is still able to hold narrow control of the chamber because Vice President Kamala Harris serves as the tie breaker. In the 2022 elections, Republicans lost a Senate seat in Pennsylvania, but they are hoping to make up that ground by flipping Nevada where votes are still being tallied and they have a narrow lead. If they are successful, control of the Senate will likely come down to a Dec. 6 runoff election in Georgia.

Manchin, along with Democratic Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, have often been swing votes in key Democratic bills over the past two years. The two have been able to use their position to force changes to legislation that would moderate the bills to be more centrist. In a situation in which Republicans hold a majority, that influence could diminish.

If Democrats retain the majority, Manchin will likely retain that influence, according to John Kilwein, a political science professor at West Virginia University.

“He and Sen. Sinema will retain significant power within their caucus and both will be up for reelection in 2024, a presidential year, so I see them both demanding more from their Democratic leadership in terms of shifting policy to the center and benefits for their states [if Democrats remain in control],” Kilwein told The Center Square. “The presidential year creates interesting challenges for both. Manchin faces a very red electorate, and if Trump is the Republican nominee, it could be more energized. He remains very popular here.”

Sam Workman, who is also a political science professor at WVU, told The Center Square this power will diminish if Republicans take control of the chamber.

“I can [see] no scenario where Republicans work with [President Joe] Biden on domestic issues with an ongoing presidential campaign,” Workman said. “The limited opportunities might be narrow provisions for leasing and permitting for oil and gas, but even that is unlikely. There is simply no incentive for them to work with the governing party.”

Although some have speculated Manchin could switch to the Republican Party in a divided Senate or a Republican-controlled Senate, neither Kilwein nor Workman think that is likely. Even though Manchin has been a pivotal swing vote to reign in Democratic bills, they noted he has not voted in line with a lot of the Republican policy agenda.

“I’m not sure how much the switch would help him in his 2024 run” Kilwein said. “It would clearly alienate the declining part of the electorate that is still Democrat and I don’t think the hardcore MAGA Republicans would buy he has truly converted, especially after he pushed the Inflation Reduction Act over the finish line.”

Workman noted Manchin has also been pivotal in approving Biden-appointed judges, which he said would not sit well with the Republican Party.

Marybeth Beller, a political science professor at Marshall University, noted Manchin has repeatedly said he intends to stay in the Democratic Party. 

"While this last election saw substantial Republican growth in many counties and certainly in the state legislature, it is important to keep in mind that Sen. Manchin could face hard opposition in a Republican primary, and is less likely to face strong opposition in a Democratic primary," Beller said. "He speaks well to moderates and progressives and often listens to them, even if he seldom votes in a manner they prefer."

With more than 80% of the vote counted in Nevada, the Republican lead is just less than 2 points. In Arizona, which has yet to be called, the Democrat is leading by 5 points. In Georgia, the Democrat finished less than 1% higher than the Republican, but with neither candidate breaking 50%, that race will be decided in a runoff.

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and West Virginia for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.