Senate Republicans escalate their attacks on GOP candidate Don Blankenship in the West Virginia Senate, increasingly worried that the coal baron and ex-detainee will blow a viable race against Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.
Republicans see West Virginia as a prime pickup opportunity in November, given the huge popularity of President Donald Trump there. But they say that multimillionaire Blankenship, who is in a tight-knit threesome against Rep. Evan Jenkins (RW.Va.) and prosecutor Patrick Morrisey, can not be defended as a candidate after spending a year in prison for conspiracy against mine safety violations. Twenty-nine miners died in 2010 in the Upper Big Branch of his company.
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"Was not he convicted of a crime?" Said John Cornyn of Texas in an interview on Tuesday. "This type of background is not, in my opinion, a public office, and being convicted of a crime is a real culprit."
As the race draws nearer, alerts are sounding in Senate executive suites. On a Monday evening Senate Republican leadership meeting, Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee focuses on Blankenship's weakness, explaining that other Republicans believe that the former coal magnate would be difficult for the party to defend in the state According to participants
He specifically referred to allegations that blankenship companies have polluted drinking water. One case involving the problem was closed to residents of West Virginia, although Massey Energy, which led Blankenship, did not admit to misconduct.
"This is not popular in West Virginia," Gardner told the leaders who had gathered in McConnell's office, citing the contamination claims.
The situation between Blankenship and the national Republicans is becoming increasingly tense. Last week, a super-PAC, apparently controlled by national interests, has blamed Blankenship with the allegations of contaminating the state's drinking water. At the same time he built a private water supply for his house. Blankenship returned in a devastating statement on Monday, equating Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with the Russians and interfering in an election beyond his jurisdiction.
Cornyn and other senior Republican senators continued the tit-for-deed this week. And the famous strategic McConnell ironically claimed that he "did not pay much attention to these primaries" before throwing a blow at Blankenship.
"We will wait to see who the candidate is and step behind a Republican candidate, and hopefully it will be one that is actually eligible," McConnell said Tuesday, later calling him a "subtle reference" to his fondness for designated the primary area.
Meanwhile, Jenkins and Morrisey beat themselves before May 8, primarily. On Tuesday, Morrisey released an ad attacking Jenkins' "Liberal Democrat Record," while Jenkins focused on getting Morrisey campaign funds from the pharmaceutical industry, an attack that resonates in a state plagued by opiate dependency.
Officially becoming Senate Republicans He intervened in the race for fear that it would help Blankenship to portray himself as an outsider and take over the corrupt establishment. But privately, blankenship is a hot topic among the leaders of the GOP.
"It's pretty wild out here, I do not think it's [win]of course I hope that one of the other candidates will, because I think he's obviously a challenging candidate for the fall "said Senator John Thune of South Dakota, GOP leader number 3.
On Monday, Sen. Shelley Moore met Capito (R.-W.Va.), an ally of McConnell, with a small group of donors in New York City. She described the Primary as extremely close to the candidates Blankenship, Jenkins and Morrisey. And according to a person in attendance, she said that the Republicans were worried that Blankenship would get the nomination that Manchin would be over in general elections.
In an interview on Tuesday, Capito said she would not participate in the election primary and said "it's really hard to predict" who will win. A limited public poll in the race has shown that all three candidates are in the race and there is no favorite.
"It is exacerbating with all the signs, and I think that will increase the interest of many Republican and independent voters in the state, and I think that's a good thing," Capito said.
It's no surprise that GOP senators are looking for a silver lining because they find themselves in an almost impossible position in the West Virginia race.
During last year's Alabama Senate Race, the national party – led by the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund Super PAC – spent millions of dollars in an unsuccessful attempt to stop former state Judge Roy Moore of the Supreme Court, who won the nomination , The bombing failed, and Moore portrayed himself as the victim of a GOP establishment that wanted to put him down – a message that resonated with the state's conservative electorate.
Moore defeated former Senator Luther Strange (R-Ala.), But then lost to Democrat Doug Jones and snatched the already thin majority of Senate GOP. Thune admitted that the GOP, which is directly involved in West Virginia, would "probably" similarly help Blankenship.
"I still think that in the end, people will realize enough that they will find out, obviously we want to have a good candidate there who will race well in the fall," he said.
Instead, the Republican leaders are more cautious. They have refused to consider the recently launched anti-blankenship ad of the so-called Mountain Families PAC. But their fingerprints are all over the generic titled group, which has recruited a team of seasoned republican strategists who have worked closely with the Senate Leadership Fund in the past. The Super PAC advertising agency, McCarthy Hennings Whalen, has also worked for McConnell.
Trump appeared at a West Virginia event this month sitting next to Jenkins and Morrisey. Blankenship was not present. Senate Republicans said privately that they hope Trump will attack Blankenship when upcoming polls show he could win.
Blankenship now takes a page out of the Moore book. In a devastating statement, he mocked McConnell as the "swamp captain" of DC, said he had been falsely accused in the mine blast and compared McConnell to a Russian intruder.
"West Virginians are aware that McConnell can not participate in their election," said Blankenship. "They want him to take care of his own business and do his job."