Jenkins, Morrisey Lead Blankenship in W.Va. Primary Poll

Jenkins, Morrisey Lead Blankenship in W.Va. Primary Poll
Scott McCloskey/The Intelligencer via AP
Jenkins, Morrisey Lead Blankenship in W.Va. Primary Poll
Scott McCloskey/The Intelligencer via AP
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Former coal baron Don Blankenship is in third place in the Republican Senate primary in West Virginia, according to a new poll released Tuesday, a positive development for national Republicans who are concerned his candidacy could sink their chances to flip the seat in November.

Rep. Evan Jenkins leads the primary field with 25 percent of the vote, according to the poll released by Fox News. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is in second place with 21 percent, and Blankenship -- who recently finished a prison sentence for conspiring to violate mine safety standards in a fatal 2010 explosion – is in third place with 16 percent. Nearly a quarter of voters remain undecided ahead of the May 8 primary.

A second poll commissioned by GOPAC, a Republican organization, and released Monday also showed Blankenship in third place, though it had Morrisey narrowly ahead of Jenkins.

The race has been increasingly negative, though Jenkins and Morrisey have turned most of their fire on each other rather than going after Blankenship (pictured at left). In a debate Monday afternoon, the congressman attacked Morrisey as having “New Jersey values” for interrupting him -- a dig for not being a native of West Virginia. Morrisey fired back, calling Jenkins a “lifelong career Democrat” and linking him to national Democratic figures, a theme in several ads he has released attacking the lawmaker. Jenkins switched to the Republican Party in 2013 before running for Congress.

“Evan Jenkins is too similar to Joe Manchin to defeat Joe Manchin,” Morrisey said.

National Republicans have not taken sides, but fear Blankenship’s connection to an explosion that killed 29 miners would sink his chances in a general election. Manchin referenced the mine accident in his first TV ad of the campaign, released last week. And Mountain Families PAC, a super PAC with ties to national Republicans, has spent $700,000 in ads attacking Blankenship in recent weeks.

The upstart candidate, who is self-financing his campaign with significant sums, has attacked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and pitched himself as an outsider. In the debate Monday, he called Washington the “District of Corruption” and said there was a “professional wrestling problem” of faking fights between politicians.

Blankenship said that when he goes to Washington, “it won’t be a fake fight, it’ll be a real fight.”

Duty and Country PAC, a group with ties to national Democrats, meanwhile, has begun meddling in the primary by running ads opposing Morrisey and Jenkins, each of whom argued during the debate that Democrats are afraid of facing him in the general election.

“They are scared to death of Evan Jenkins on the ballot in November because they know Evan Jenkins can beat Joe Manchin,” Jenkins said.

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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