Don Blankenship is a coal baron who tried to inflate his profits by ignoring safety regulations — in a mine where 29 of his workers were killed. He is a convicted criminal, who regularly rants about “Chinapeople,” and has the charisma of a coma patient.
And he just might be the West Virginia GOP’s nominee for Senate this fall. In the three-way race to challenge Democrat Joe Manchin, Republican congressman Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey are splitting the mainstream vote, while Blankenship is rapidly consolidating the “I’m for whoever Mitch McConnell isn’t” bloc: In recent days, as the coal baron has saturated West Virginia’s airwaves with advertisements, internal GOP polling has reportedly showed Blankenship eking out a narrow lead over his rivals.
Now, 24 hours before West Virginians head to the polls, Donald Trump has finally put his thumb on the scales. Unable to find any substantive argument against Blankenship’s candidacy (what’s not to like about white-collar criminal who camouflages his homicidal contempt for the working class in folksy racism?), the president warned his supporters that the man was simply unelectable, tweeting, “To the great people of West Virginia we have, together, a really great chance to keep making a big difference. Problem is, Don Blankenship, currently running for Senate, can’t win the General Election in your State…No way! Remember Alabama. Vote Rep. Jenkins or A.G. Morrisey!”
In this case, Trump’s analysis is likely correct. As Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics explains, the keys to Democratic competitiveness in West Virginia are the economically left-leaning, culturally conservative working-class voters in the southwest part of the state. Joe Manchin has long displayed a talent for connecting with that constituency (or, more precisely, enough of that constituency to command a state-level majority). But Blankenship is just about the best possible foil the Democrat could ask for in a fight for such voters. And the coal baron’s flagrant xenophobia — and habit of decrying Mitch McConnell as a cocaine dealer — means that the national Republican Party would likely do relatively little to boost Blankenship’s candidacy.
These realities aren’t lost on Democratic strategists. One of the Donkey Party’s super-PACS, Duty and Country, has spent $1.8 million trying to take out Evan Jenkins in the primary — a move that has likely boosted Blankenship’s prospects.
Blankenship responded to Trump’s tweet Monday morning by noting that, “The president is a very busy man and he does not know me.”
The exorbitantly wealthy white-collar criminal — who is trying to steal a nomination from career GOP politicians on the strength of his media exposure and the virulence of his racism — also observed, “As some have said, I am Trumpier than Trump, and this morning proves it.’