West Virginia Democratic Gov. Jim Justice announced at a rally Thursday evening with President Trump that he is changing his political affiliation to the Republican party and become a Republican.
West Virginia used to be a Democratic stronghold, but the state has grown increasingly conservative in recent years and now votes reliably Republican at the presidential and state level. In 2014, the state legislature flipped from Democratic to Republican control. Trump won West Virginia in November, defeating Hillary Clinton in a landslide with 67 percent of the vote.
The governor announced his decision Thursday evening at a campaign rally with the president Donald Trump. Justice said he no longer could help West Virginians anymore as a Democratic governor, adding that the “Democrats walked away from me.”
“Let me just say this to you as bluntly as I can say it, West Virginia. At the altar when we had it done, like it or not like it, but the Democrats walked away from me,” Justice said during a rally with President Trump in Huntington, W.Va.
“Now today I would tell you with lots of prayers and lots of thinking, today I tell you as West Virginians, I can’t help you any more being a Democrat governor,” he continued. “So tomorrow I will be changing my registration to Republican.”
Mr. Justice, a billionaire coal and real estate magnate, ran as a conservative Democrat and declined to endorse Hillary Clinton in 2016. But even as West Virginia has become a reliable Republican state in presidential elections and further down the ballot, a handful of Democrats have still been able to win office.
Mr. Justice said he would officially change his voter registration on Friday.
“I will tell you with lots of prayers and lots of thinking, today I will tell you as West Virginians that I can’t help you anymore being a Democrat governor,” he said. He imagined his mother, who has passed away, saying, “Jimmy, it’s about damn time you came to your senses.”
Trump had teased earlier in the day that he had a “very big announcement” for tonight’s rally. The state is a Trump stronghold, and even as the president faces record-low approval ratings nationally, his popularity has largely held in West Virginia. At least 1,000 supporters lined the streets ahead of the president’s expected appearance, wearing “Make America Great Again” hats and chanting “USA! USA!”
Justice’s defection leaves Democrats with just 15 governors among 50 states.