By Andrew Adkins

President Donald J. Trump said he's thrilled "Big Jim" is flipping to the Republican Party.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced his intent to shed his Democrat label, sending an already raucous crowd of Trump supporters into a frenzy Thursday in Huntington's Big Sandy Superstore Arena.

Most of the crowd was distracted during Justice's speech by a scuffle between a protester and a security guard. A man with a "Trump Pence Regime Must Be Stopped" sign was tackled to the floor and later escorted out as Justice pressed on.

Justice claimed his party "walked away" from him, and lauded Trump for his promise to revive the vanishing coal industry in West Virginia.

Justice said he visited the Oval Office twice in the last three weeks to discuss ideas about coal and manufacturing. He also went hunting recently with Donald Trump Jr.

Justice, 66, earned more than $1 billion as a coal and agriculture tycoon before his successful run for governor in 2016. Justice said he tried "with all [his] soul," during his first legislative session.

"Today I will tell you as West Virginians, I can't help you anymore being a Democrat governor," he said.

Trump said Justice "did something very important tonight," by showing the country his administration's agenda "rises above left or right."

"Having big Jim as a Republican is such an honor, I will tell you, such an honor. Thank you Jim, very much," said Trump.

Justice defeated Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Cole last fall. Trump won West Virginia with 68 percent of the vote.

(c)2017 The Daily Independent (Ashland, Ky.)