Trump Urges W.Va. Voters to Reject Blankenship

Trump Urges W.Va. Voters to Reject Blankenship
AP Photo/Steve Helber
Trump Urges W.Va. Voters to Reject Blankenship
AP Photo/Steve Helber
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President Trump urged West Virginia Republicans to vote against former coal baron Don Blankenship in Tuesday’s Senate primary, hoping to tilt the election away from a candidate party leaders fear cannot wrest the seat from Democrats this fall.

He didn’t endorse either Rep. Evan Jenkins or state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, the top two candidates vying for the nomination against Blankenship. Instead, he referred back to last year’s special election in Alabama, where Roy Moore, a controversial former judge, won the GOP primary and lost to now-Sen. Doug Jones, saying Republicans couldn’t afford a repeat.

Blankenship dismissed the president’s tweet, saying in a statement Trump doesn’t know him and was unaware “how flawed” his opponents were. He insisted he can defeat the Democratic incumbent.

“Neither of my opponents can beat Joe Manchin without my support, but I will beat Joe Manchin even without the support of the establishment,” Blankenship said.

“As some have said, I am Trumpier than Trump and this morning proves it,” he added.

Blankenship recently spent a year in prison for conspiring to violate mine safety standards after a 2010 explosion killed 29 miners. He has run an increasingly nasty and controversial campaign, attacking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a string of ads and using racially charged language, referring to McConnell’s father-in-law as a “Chinaperson.”

An outside group with ties to GOP leadership has spent more than $1 million attacking Blankenship on air. Meanwhile, a Democratic outside group has spent more than $1.8 million attacking Jenkins and, to a lesser degree, Morrisey.

Both Jenkins and Morrisey had avoided attacking Blankenship for much of the election, instead training most of their firepower on each other. Morrisey began going after Blankenship in recent days, though he has attacked him not for his past or for his controversial campaign tactics, but for refusing to file his financial disclosures. In a press conference Sunday, he said Blankenship cannot beat Manchin in the fall.

“Don Blankenship would be the top recruit of Chuck Schumer this cycle because he hands the election over to Senator Joe Manchin,” he said.

Both Morrisey and Jenkins took advantage of Trump’s tweet Monday, attempting to use the president’s intervention to their advantage without mentioning one another. Morrisey said he would be a “senator who will work closely with President Trump” and repeated his attacks against Blankenship.

Jenkins said in a statement: “I’m honored that President Trump encouraged voters to cast their vote for me to Make America Great Again. I’m the only candidate in this race who has backed Donald Trump since day one, and as senator, I’ll continue working side-by-side with him in the best interests of West Virginia and our conservative values.”

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



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