Former coal executive and ex-convict Don Blankenship on Monday announced plans to launch a third-party bid for a West Virginia Senate seat after losing the GOP primary to state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
It’s unclear whether Blankenship will actually be allowed onto the ballot, since state law bans candidates who lose a major-party primary from running as a third-party candidate in a general election, a rule often referred to as the “sore loser law.”
But, if he is successful, he could deal a serious blow to Morrisey’s attempt to coalesce Republicans around his bid to defeat Democratic Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump administration seeks to use global aid for nuclear projects Shelley Moore Capito wins Senate primary West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice wins GOP gubernatorial primary MORE.
In a statement announcing his decision, Blankenship blasted the GOP establishment that successfully fought to keep him from winning the primary, warning that there would be payback and accusing the White House of reneging on a promise to not get involved in the race.
“The political establishment is determined to keep me — the most anti-establishment candidate in the nation — out of the United States Senate,” he said.
“The press and the establishment have colluded and lied to convince the public that I am a moron, a bigot, and a felon. They even went so far as to lie about my chances against Senator Joe Manchin in the general election.”
Blankenship finished third in the state’s GOP Senate primary behind Morrisey and Rep. Evan JenkinsEvan Hollin JenkinsWest Virginia New Members 2019 Republican Carol Miller holds off Democrat in West Virginia House race Trump to fundraise for 3 Republicans running for open seats: report MORE (R-W.Va.), to the delight of Washington Republicans who worried Blankenship would destroy the party’s chances of defeating Manchin in the deep-red state.
The former coal baron served one year in prison on a misdemeanor charge related to an explosion in one of his mines that killed 29 people. During the campaign, Washington Republicans strongly condemned him, and a super PAC backed by allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote GOP senator to try to reverse requirement that Pentagon remove Confederate names from bases No, ‘blue states’ do not bail out ‘red states’ MORE (R-Ky.) bankrolled an ad campaign meant to smear him.
Blankenship positioned himself as an anti-establishment candidate, portraying himself as “Trumpier than Trump” and waging a controversial ad campaign that included all-out attacks on McConnell and his family.
He called McConnell “Cocaine Mitch,” a reference to a report that drugs were found on a shipping vessel his wife’s family owned, and referred to McConnell’s wife, Chinese-American Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoTrump campaign launches Asian Pacific Americans coalition Bottom line Democrats to probe Trump’s replacement of top Transportation Dept. watchdog MORE, as a “China-person.”
President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE, in a tweet just before the state’s primary, urged West Virginia voters not to support Blankenship, a move the candidate largely blamed for his loss. Trump reportedly called Blankenship after the election to congratulate him on the campaign.
But Blankenship appeared spurned by the primary outcome —adviser Greg Thomas said days after the election that Blankenship would not support Morrisey and that “all options are on the table” to stop him from winning.
That appears to have culminated in the push for the Constitution Party’s nomination, a strategy that could siphon votes away from Morrisey if he’s allowed on the ballot.
Even with the Constitution Party’s support, a spot on the ballot is no sure thing for Blankenship thanks to the state’s “sore loser law.”
But in the statement, Blankenship predicted he’d be allowed onto the ballot “absent a politically motivated decision by the courts.”
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Trump won West Virginia by more than 40 points in the 2016 presidential election, giving Republicans hope they can knock Manchin out of office once and for all. Manchin has carved out space in the state despite his party affiliation, serving as the secretary of state and governor before his Senate bid.
Republicans are hopeful that Morrisey can win the seat, pointing to a recent internal poll from the campaign that had Morrisey up 2 points. But any move that could split the GOP vote could be a problem for the GOP and make it that much harder to defeat Manchin.
Updated at 9:28 a.m.
Avery Anapol contributed.