West Virginia's GOP Senate primary is Tuesday, and the state's Republicans are about to nominate a screamingly racist convicted miner-killing felon to lose to Democrat Joe Manchin in November. Needless to say, a replay of Roy Moore in Alabama has the party in 100% panic mode.
There is growing concern among Republicans that Don Blankenship, a bombastic coal baron who has spent time in prison, is surging ahead of Tuesday’s West Virginia Senate primary — and a last-minute campaign is underway to stop him.
As the tight contest hurtles to a close, four Republicans said they’d reviewed polling conducted in recent days showing Blankenship, who spent a year in jail following the 2010 explosion at his Upper Big Branch Mine that killed 29 workers, moving narrowly ahead of his more mainstream GOP rivals, Rep. Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
The Republicans cautioned that the surveys, designed to offer a snapshot of the race, were conducted over a brief period of time and may be overstating Blankenship’s support.
Still, Blankenship’s rivals and other Republicans are alarmed. Many are convinced that a Blankenship win, coming just months after the disastrous Alabama Senate race, would destroy the party’s prospects of defeating Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in November.
Some Republicans involved in the race said they were hoping the White House would intervene ahead of the Tuesday primary, though it remains unclear whether it will do so.
On Thursday, the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., sent out a tweet asking “the people of West Virginia to make a wise decision and reject Blankenship.”
“No more fumbles like Alabama,” he added. “We need to win in November.”
Republicans are sinking millions into the race to stop Blankenship, and it's not working. It's not working at all, because Blankenship is putting his own fortune into winning, and he's running against the most hated man in the state: Mitch McConnell.
National Republicans have sought to prevent Blankenship from winning the nomination. An outside group aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Mountain Families PAC, has spent $1.3 million on a TV ad campaign targeting the former prisoner. On Friday afternoon, the group began a digital advertisement telling West Virginians, “Don’t vote Don Blankenship.”
The offensive bears similarities to the ultimately unsuccessful one the party launched against former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore in last year’s Alabama Senate race. Moore beat back the national GOP campaign against him and went on to lose the general election to Democrat Doug Jones.
Blankenship has responded in kind, launching a slash-and-burn campaign targeting McConnell.
His scorching attacks have veered into deeply personal, even racially-charged territory.
This week, Blankenship began airing a TV commercial labeling McConnell “Cocaine Mitch,” an apparent reference to a 2014 report that drugs were once found aboard a shipping vessel owned by the family of McConnell’s wife, Taiwanese-born Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Then, a few days later, Blankenship began airing another spot declaring that McConnell’s “China family has given him tens of millions of dollars.”
Believe me when I say Republican primary candidates are paying attention to Blankenship's attacks on McConnell as a path to victory. It's a free-for-all and everyone's a target now.