HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (Reuters) - West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, standing next to President Donald Trump at a rally on Thursday night, announced that he was changing political parties, ditching the Democrats and joining Trump's Republicans.
"I can't help you anymore being a Democrat governor," Justice told the crowd. "So tomorrow I will be changing my registration to Republican," he said to loud cheers.
Justice, a billionaire businessman with interests in coal and agriculture, won election in November as a Democrat in his first attempt at political office. Until 2015, he had been a registered Republican.
Trump, who won West Virginia by 42 percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton, campaigned on a promise to bring back coal jobs, an important industry in the state.
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Justice said his late mother would have told him about switching parties: "Jimmy, it's about damn time you came to your senses."
Justice told the crowd he had met with Trump twice at the White House in the past several weeks to present ideas on coal and manufacturing.
"He's got a backbone. He's got real ideas. He cares about America. He cares about us in West Virginia," Justice said of Trump, a fellow billionaire businessman.
Trump, who earlier in the day promised a "very big announcement" at the rally, welcomed Justice into the party's ranks.
"Having big Jim as a Republican is such an honor," Trump said of the 6-foot-7-inch governor.
With Justice changing his affiliation, there are now 34 Republican governors, 15 Democrats and one independent. Republicans will now control both the legislature and the governorship in 26 of the 50 states.
Republicans control both houses of the West Virginia legislature.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Writing by Eric Beech; Editing by Bernard Orr)