West Virginia Republicans probably wish they could find a wooden stake to drive through the heart of the Senate candidacy of Don Blankenship. The colorful ex-mine owner, ex-con (for conspiracy to violate federal safety standards in connection with a 2010 mine disaster that killed 29 of his employees) and now ex-Republican is filing to become the U.S. Senate nominee of the far-right Constitution Party, defying his state’s “sore loser” law.
Blankenship finished a poor third in the May 9 GOP primary for the chance to face vulnerable Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin. But he spent a lot of his own money, and lost only after Donald Trump endorsed both of his opponents, and the national party — and particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — waged holy war on him out of fear that his nomination would guarantee Manchin’s reelection. While Blankenship steered clear of any conflict with Trump, he reciprocated McConnell’s ill will with racist attacks on the Kentuckian’s Asian-American wife (who also happens to be U.S. Secretary of Transportation) and in-laws. Based on a sketchy tale of alleged wrongdoing by McConnell’s father-in-law, moreover, Blankenship took to calling his nemesis “Cocaine Mitch.”
When Blankenship went down hard on primary day, McConnell’s staff really rubbed it in with an image of the Majority Leader in what looked to be a storm of white powder:
This may have been ill-advised. Blankenship is now determined to wreck his party’s general-election campaign, and certainly has the finances to mount a strong legal challenge against the “sore loser” or “sour grapes” law that ostensibly prohibit candidates from accepting a party’s nomination for an office after losing another another party’s nomination contest (47 states have such laws, though they vary in wording and interpretation). West Virginia’s Republican Secretary of State is almost sure to refuse to certify Blankenship’s candidacy. But West Virginia University constitutional lawyer Robert Bastress says the law was so poorly drafted that it might be unsustainable:
“I know when the Legislature last amended [the law], it thought it had precluded sore losers, but when I researched the issue after that amendment, I concluded that it was not totally clear that it had done so,” he said. “There is nothing in the Code, to my knowledge, that is as clear as what the [Secretary of State] says.”
But no matter how you handicap the legal battle, it’s bad news for Republican nominee and attorney general Patrick Morrisey, who must continue to wage a two-front war against Manchin and Blankenship so long as the former coal baron has a chance of appearing on the ballot and harvesting some of his near-universal name ID. Morrisey is already trailing the wily incumbent (the most reliable recent poll, from Monmouth, had Manchin up 50-43 among likely voters, and Manchin’s lead increased to nine points with Blankenship in the mix), who has a lot of money to burn going into the home stretch. The last thing the GOP needs is a deep-pocketed and vengeful ex-con determined to settle Mitch McConnell’s hash.