EXCLUSIVE: Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is throwing his support behind Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., in what’s shaping up to be a high-profile GOP primary race to see which Republican will take on Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., in 2024.
Cruz declared his support for Mooney on Friday, calling him a "strong conservative" who will "represent the values" of West Virginia in the Senate.
"I’m proud to endorse Alex Mooney for the U.S. Senate in West Virginia," Cruz said in a statement to Fox News Digital. "Alex is a friend, he’s a fighter and a strong conservative who will ferociously defend the Second Amendment, be a champion for American energy, prioritize bringing jobs to West Virginia, and faithfully and aggressively represent the values of the Mountain State in the Senate."
Mooney is the only major Republican candidate in the race so far, but allies of Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell have made it clear they want West Virginia’s Republican governor, Jim Justice, to run as well. Justice was a Democrat until 2017, when he announced himself as a Republican during a rally with former President Donald Trump.
Mooney's allies are likely to seize on Justice's political past as a Democrat as the race heats up, which could be a potent strategy in ruby red West Virginia. But other Republicans point to Justice's high name recognition and popularity as governor to argue he's the strongest candidate to run against Manchin.
Mooney used Cruz's endorsement to say West Virginia needs a "proven conservative voice" in the Senate.
"Senator Cruz is leading the fight against the big government, COVID lockdown RINOs. Like me, Sen. Cruz stands up for the Constitution, for traditional American values, and is working to save our country," Mooney said.
"West Virginia is a solid Republican state that deserves to have a proven conservative voice in the United States Senate instead of a Democrat like Joe Manchin or a liberal Republican. I thank Sen. Cruz for his endorsement in my fight to bring additional strong and consistent conservative leadership to the Senate," he said.
Republicans are already eyeing West Virginia as a reasonable pickup opportunity in a Senate electoral map that’s widely expected to favor them over Democrats. Manchin hasn’t yet said what he plans to do yet.
Mooney is also backed by Cruz’s fellow conservative, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., as well as the hardline right group Club for Growth.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Steve Daines has been "recruiting Justice to run." The McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund also told Fox News Digital that it was backing Justice to declare, and the governor has hinted in media interviews that he’s giving it serious thought and could announce imminently.
The battle lines being drawn in West Virginia are similar to those seen around the country in 2022, when Democrats kept hold of the Senate while several GOP candidates, many of which were hardliners and backed by Trump, lost races many thought they would win.
Trump has not endorsed anyone in the primary so far. In 2022, his backing helped then-little known Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C., surge to his own primary victory over former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, who had both higher name recognition and the backing of the GOP establishment.