The Republican Party doesn’t want another Roy Moore situation — losing a winnable Senate seat due to a flawed candidate — on its hands in West Virginia. Now President Donald Trump is getting involved, tweeting a warning about voting for Don Blankenship, the Republican Senate candidate who calls Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “Cocaine Mitch.”
The president on Monday morning warned West Virginia voters to vote against the criminally convicted former coal baron, telling them Blankenship won’t be able to win a general election there in his bid for a US Senate seat against incumbent Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin. “Remember Alabama!” he wrote, referring to the Senate race where Moore lost to Democrat Doug Jones last year.
Blankenship is running against Rep. Evan Jenkins and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to be the Republican nominee to challenge Manchin in the fall. Their primary race is Tuesday, May 8. His credentials, and campaign tactics, have Republicans on edge about the prospect of him potentially becoming the party’s nominee.
Blankenship is a former coal baron who ran a company, Massey Energy, found to be violating federal safety regulations when a 2010 mining explosion killed 29 people, marking the worst coal disaster in 40 years. Blankenship stepped down after the incident but years later was indicted on conspiring to willfully violate federal mining regulations before the accident and lying to the Securities and Exchange Commission after it happened. He was convicted of conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards and served one year in prison, and was released in May 2017.
To the great people of West Virginia we have, together, a really great chance to keep making a big difference. Problem is, Don Blankenship, currently running for Senate, can’t win the General Election in your State...No way! Remember Alabama. Vote Rep. Jenkins or A.G. Morrisey!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 7, 2018
Blankenship’s entry into the race upended what was likely to have been a generic contest between Jenkins and Morrisey.
Vox’s Dylan Scott, who has a full explainer on the West Virginia Senate race, lays out the dynamics of the contest and the consternation it’s caused for the GOP and, specifically, McConnell:
Blankenship has sought to slime Jenkins, who has represented the southern half of the state in the House since 2015, as an ex-Democrat; Jenkins did indeed switch parties in 2013, though his supporters would remind you that is not an unfamiliar journey in a state like West Virginia.
The coal baron is hitting Morrisey, state attorney general since 2013, for a history of lobbying for drugmakers in a state with the worst opioid crisis in the country, though Morrisey has sued to make data on opioid sales more available while serving as attorney general.
Republicans in Washington, DC, have been worried about Blankenship for a while. The New York Times reported in February that McConnell did not want the former coal boss to be the party’s nominee in the race against Manchin. A new PAC, Mountain Families, with ties to establishment Republicans has attacked Blankenship on the state’s airwaves.
“Who will clean up Washington? Not convicted criminal Don Blankenship,” narration for one of the group’s ads begins.
Blankenship has hit back at McConnell specifically for pushing against him, perhaps the most eyebrow-raising escalation coming in a campaign ad in which he tells voters to help him “ditch Cocaine Mitch for the sake of the kids.”
Don Blankenship doubles down on phrases like "China people" and "Cocaine Mitch" in new ad that also features his undeniable charisma and charm pic.twitter.com/eiv9WUADjz— Robert Maguire (@RobertMaguire_) May 3, 2018
He has also employed racist insults. In a radio interview, he called the father of McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, a “wealthy Chinaperson.” In the above ad, he says McConnell has created millions of jobs for “Chinapeople” and that his “China family has given him tens of millions of dollars.”
Republicans would really rather Blankenship not win the Republican primary
Republicans in December watched as Roy Moore, a former judge who faced allegations of sexual misconduct from multiple women who said he acted inappropriately to them when they were in their teens, lost Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s seat to Doug Jones, a Democrat. The GOP does not want a repeat in West Virginia.
Blankenship has tried to cast his criminal conviction as a politically motivated attack by President Barack Obama and sell himself as the true West Virginian in the Republican contest. He’s tried to woo the Trump camp as well.
Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. on Thursday tweeted asking “the people of West Virginia to make a wise decision and reject Blankenship!” He continued, “No more fumbles like Alabama.”
Blankenship replied in a pair of tweets. “I am sorry that you were misinformed and misled by McConnell’s cronies while you were at the RNC meeting yesterday in Miami. I’ve never been convicted of a felony and never been convicted of a misdemeanor I committed,” he wrote. “Just like your father, I am a victim of fake news and a corrupt Obama DOJ. When I get to DC, your dad will have no better supporter in his efforts to drain the swamp. Looking forward to working together to Make America Great Again. You will like the real Don Blankenship, just like WV voters.”
Trump Jr. appears not to have relayed Blankenship’s message to his father.