In the West Virginia primary election on Tuesday night, Republican voters will decide whether to nominate convicted coal baron Don Blankenship, against the wishes of top Republicans up to and including President Donald Trump, or two of the more conventional conservative candidates on the ballot.
Blankenship is squaring off against Rep. Evan Jenkins and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey for the right to challenge Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin this November. Manchin is one of the top Republican targets in 2018, as he represents the state that, by most metrics, is most fond of Trump.
Live results are below. Polls close at 7:30 pm ET.
West Virginia Senate Republican primary: Don Blankenship vs. Evan Jenkins vs. Patrick Morrisey
Monday morning, Trump warned West Virginians that a Blankenship victory would be a redux of Alabama, when Democrats won a Senate seat in a special election upset.
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
The Republican Senate primary has been a vicious fight between Blankenship and the Washington establishment, most notably Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. National Democrats have also been spending money here in an apparent attempt to prop up the former coal boss. Here is how Vox summed up the race:
Come November, West Virginia will be a top Republican target. It’s become something of a miracle the state still has a statewide Democrat at all, though Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin has a long history within the state. But he’s in choppy waters. While it has a working-class Democratic history, West Virginia went for Donald Trump by 42 points and hasn’t gone for a Democrat in the presidential election since 1996.
“There’s a very strong anti-establishment sentiment in West Virginia, and there’s also an ‘it can’t get any worse’ sentiment,” Patrick Hickey, a political science professor at West Virginia University, told me. “We’re just trying to shake it up.”
Blankenship is the GOP primary’s wild card. The former Massey Energy CEO has an extensive personal fortune and deep West Virginia ties in the state’s marquee industry. Then again, he also has a criminal conviction, and many voters in the state will never forgive him for the Upper Big Branch mining accident.
The coal boss shook up what had been a two-man Republican primary: Rep. Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey have also thrown their hat in the ring.
“One candidate has no convictions, one candidate has a conviction, and the other guy is a carpetbagger,” Jeff Kessler, a Democratic politician in the state, told me.
West Virginia Senate Democratic primary: Joe Manchin faces a left-flank challenge
Manchin, who is considered to be one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats in the general election, is facing a primary challenge from progressive candidate Paula Jean Swearengin. Some West Virginia Democrats blame Manchin for supporting Gov. Jim Justice, who wound up switching parties after election at a much-touted rally with President Trump.
“He pulled a fast one on everybody. That’s more the perception on the ground. It’s not a Manchin thing; it’s more of a Justice issue,” a Manchin-backing Democrat told Vox last month.
Manchin is expected to win handily, but a strong showing for Swearengin could indicate some weakness on his left flank.
West Virginia Third Congressional District primary: Richard Ojeda vies for Democratic nomination
There is also at least one House primary worth watching, for the West Virginia Third Congressional District. Democratic state Sen. Richard Ojeda — a marquee supporter of the West Virginia teachers strike, whom Politico dubbed “JFK with tattoos” — could grab the Democratic nomination.
This is Jenkins’s old seat. It leans heavily Republican, but there is some belief that an Ojeda nomination could put it within reach for Democrats.