Luckily for the Democrats, Republicans are in full panic mode as the WV GOP is about to pull a Roy Moore and nominate the one guy who would almost certainly lose to Manchin in November, convicted coal baron Don Blankenship.
National Republicans — on the heels of the Roy Moore and Rick Saccone debacles — worry they’re staring down their latest potential midterm election fiasco: coal baron and recent federal prisoner Don Blankenship.
With Blankenship skyrocketing in the West Virginia Republican Senate primary and blanketing the airwaves with ads assailing his fractured field of rivals as career politicians, senior party officials are wrestling with how, or even whether, to intervene. Many of them are convinced that Blankenship, who served a one-year sentence after the deadly 2010 explosion at his Upper Big Branch Mine, would be a surefire loser against Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin — and potentially become a national stain for the party.
The discussions have intensified over the past few weeks. During separate meetings with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, aides to Blankenship’s two primary opponents, Rep. Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, pointed to Blankenship’s traction and questioned what could be done to stop him. The Senate GOP campaign arm, which heard out the appeals, recently commissioned a survey to gauge the coal king’s electoral strength and determine his staying power in the race.
Those familiar with the party’s deliberations say the results are clear: With a little more than a month until the May 8 primary, Blankenship, a towering figure in West Virginia politics long before this campaign and an avid opponent of unions, has vaulted into essentially a three-way tie with his rivals and is positioned to move ahead.
Blankenship is essentially buying a Senate office in the poorest state in the nation.
Blankenship’s rise has been driven in part by his self-financed TV ads. Since launching his campaign in late November, Blankenship has spent over $1.1 million on roughly a dozen commercials, according to media buying totals, far surpassing his opponents. Morrisey has so far spent nothing on TV ads and Jenkins only about $38,000.
Blankenship has used the ads to paint his rivals as insufficiently conservative, blasting Jenkins over his positions on Obamacare and climate change and Morrisey on abortion. He’s positioned himself as an unshakable ally of President Donald Trump, who received 68 percent of the vote in the state.
Yet he has also undertaken an effort to clear his name.
The spots have accused the Obama administration and Manchin — who was governor at the time of the mine disaster and has said Blankenship has “blood on his hands” — of conspiring to imprison him. He has also featured testimonials from his daughter, Jennifer, who’s described her father as a soft-hearted family man and provider for West Virginians.
Even before he entered the race late last year, Blankenship was a familiar face on West Virginia TV sets. After being released from prison in 2017, he invested around $600,000 on a slate of commercials aimed at redeeming himself.
“He’s running ads, he has money. He’s not a wallflower,” said Hoppy Kercheval, an influential radio show host in the state. “He’s a puncher and a counterpuncher.”
“He’s the guy that’s on the move. He’s the guy that’s gaining traction in this wide open race,” Kercheval added. “I think it has this everyman appeal in West Virginia.”
Sure, because the average "everyman" in West Virginia is a billionaire coal magnate whose lax corporate safety record resulted in the deaths of 29 people.
Please proceed, WV GOP.