West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has announced he is switching from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party.
“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,” said Justice at an Aug 3. rally in Huntington attended by President Donald Trump, according to The New York Times. "So tomorrow, I will be changing my registration to Republican."
Justice attributed the switch to the actions of his old party rather than a change in his personal beliefs: "The Democrats walked away from me."
Jordan Burgess, a key figure in the West Virginia GOP, said Justice's switch would be an influential move for a state that has historically identified as Democratic.
"West Virginia has come a long way in our comeback story of rejecting nearly a century of liberal Democrat control," stated Burgess. "Tonight marks yet another step in our movement."
Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel took the announcement as an opportunity to target the Democratic Party.
"With only 15 governorships and control of the fewest state legislatures in history, Governor Justice's announcement is just the latest rejection of a party that is leaderless from top to bottom and unable to find a positive, unifying message," said McDaniel, according to CBS News.
One of the state's members of Congress, Rep. Evan Jenkins, flipped from the Democratic Party to the GOP several years earlier, according to The New York Times.
"I simply couldn't be a part of a liberal agenda that was so contrary to who we are and what we believe in West Virginia," said Jenkins. "If Jim Justice is the next to change his party registration to Republican, I welcome him to the Republican Party."
Justice's announcement took some by surprise, but others said that they back the governor regardless of his party affiliation.
"Doesn't matter to me," said Russell Lucas, a resident of Kenova, West Virginia. "He's done a lot for this state already. He's a mine owner, and I know guys that work in the mines, and all of them like him. They said he's for the people."
Elisabeth Pearson, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, criticized Justice's switch.
"Jim Justice deceived the voters of West Virginia when he ran as a Democrat 8 months ago," stated Pearson, according to HuffPost. "West Virginians have learned that they simply can't trust Jim Justice. He will always put his financial interests above the needs of West Virginians."