CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice filed his and President Donald Trump's reelection paperwork on Thursday, ratcheting up his alignment with the president as he formally enters the 2020 campaign season.
The Republican highlighted his relationship with Trump as he submitted the election documents, telling reporters that the president called him Wednesday to ask if he could be a “contact person” to facilitate a potential “big buy” of metallurgical coal exports to China.
“He said ‘Now, Jim, can you really do this?’ And I said, ‘Mr. President, I’ll make you proud,'" said Justice. "This may very well be a breakthrough that a lot of coal mining families have absolutely been waiting on a long time.”
He offered few other details and noted that no official agreements had been reached.
Justice has long pledged allegiance to Trump, who won nearly 70% of the state's vote in 2016 and still enjoys widespread support here. He has said he's “bound at the hip” with Trump, and, more recently, referenced the president repeatedly during his State of the State address, telling the rapt crowd, “I've been with our president many times.”
Justice's campaign thus far has been buoyed by his own money as well as some high-profile fundraisers, including one last year headlined by Donald Trump Jr., where he raked more than $200,000, according to state records.
Justice's filing comes about week after his legal team declared that a federal investigation of Justice's personal businesses had ended without any finding of wrongdoing. He had been dogged by rumors after it was made public last year that prosecutors in a public corruption unit sent three subpoenas to his administration requesting information about his businesses and a resort he owns called The Greenbrier. The U.S. Department of Justice has declined to comment on the assertion that Justice was cleared of the probe.
In addition to the legal drama surrounding his businesses, Justice has also had to deal with a civil lawsuit that accuses him of violating a passage of the state Constitution stating the governor “shall reside at the seat of government.” The case was brought by a Democratic lawmaker and has underscored criticisms that Justice is inattentive as governor. Justice has called the lawsuit “a total waste of time.”
West Virginia's 2020 candidate filing period opened this week and saw some of Justice's primary challengers formally step into the race. One candidate, Woody Thrasher, has targeted Justice repeatedly, saying the state needs a “full-time governor." He recently introduced his own policy agenda.
“It is important that the citizens of West Virginia have a leader who drives the state forward, somebody who will show up for work every day, somebody who knows how to correct things when they go awry," Thrasher said in a news release.
Democrat Ben Salango, an attorney and Kanawha County commissioner, also filed his paperwork for the governor's race Thursday, saying the state needs "a governor who actually shows up to work every day and fights for the people.”