Will West Virginia turn into another Alabama, in which Republicans lose a potential Senate seat thanks to a bad primary outcome tomorrow? Donald Trump sent up a Twitter signal this morning to his supporters in the Mountaineer State, warning them to mark anyone’s name on their ballot tomorrow but Don Blankenship’s:
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 7, 2018
What prompted this presidential intervention? Republicans have grown concerned that Blankenship may have taken advantage of infighting between two more established Republicans vying for the opportunity to unseat Joe Manchin. Blankenship has spent a lot of money on offense in the final weeks of the campaign against both Rep. Evan Jenkins and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey [no relation — Ed], but mainly targeting Mitch McConnell:
Public polling conducted in recent weeks showed Blankenship fading amid an avalanche of attacks from a super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The group, Mountain Families PAC, has spent over $1.3 million on TV commercials attacking Blankenship.
But in the race’s final days, some Republicans are concerned that Blankenship has bounced back. The former coal baron has dug into his own pockets to fund a $2.5 million TV blitz, spending far more than his primary rivals. During the final six days of the race, Blankenship spent more than $640,000 on the air, outstripping Jenkins and Morrisey combined, according to media buying totals.
Also worrying senior Republicans is the fact that Jenkins and Morrisey spent the final stretch of the race savaging each other in debates and TV commercials, a dynamic that damaged both of them and could create an opening for Blankenship. Jenkins also found himself under assault from Duty and Country, a super PAC run by national Democrats who view the congressman as a threat in the general election and want to prevent him from winning the primary.
That may have left Blankenship with the anti-establishment momentum while traditional GOP voters end up split between the two other candidates. No one would be happier about that than Joe Manchin, as Blankenship is the Democrats’ dream candidate. Allahpundit wrote about the coal mogul’s obsession with “Cocaine Mitch” McConnell and his wife Elaine Chao’s family of “China people,” which will make for hilarious general-election campaign fodder. More ominously, Blankenship served a year in prison for failing to provide a safe working environment after a mine explosion killed 29 workers in 2010. (It was a misdemeanor, leaving Blankenship eligible to run for public office.) His deep pockets might allow Blankenship to steal the nomination, but Manchin and the Democrats will make minced meat out of him in November. They would have a much tougher time painting the other candidates in this race as extreme, but Blankenship has already done that work for them.
Thus, we have Trump today trying to cut into that populist momentum — to the extent it exists — in order to ensure that Blankenship is left sidelined after tomorrow. His son Don Jr tried to take on that role himself last week, explicitly referring to the disastrous outcome in Alabama:
I hate to lose. So I'm gonna go out on a limb here and ask the people of West Virginia to make a wise decision and reject Blankenship!
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) May 3, 2018
Trump Jr later clarified that he wasn’t endorsing any candidate, only offering the anti-endorsement on Blankenship. In response, Blankenship accused Trump Jr of being McConnell’s sap, or something:
I am sorry that you were misinformed and misled by McConnell’s cronies while you were at the RNC meeting yesterday in Miami.
I have never been convicted of a felony and never been convicted of a misdemeanor that I committed.
Just like your father…(1/2)
— Don Blankenship (@DonBlankenship) May 4, 2018
Will Blankenship say the same thing about President Trump, whom he claims to support more closely than any of the other Republican candidates? That in itself has echoes of Alabama, where Roy Moore proclaimed himself the most Trumpian candidate in the GOP primary despite Trump’s endorsement of Luther Strange. And will any of this matter so close to the end of the primary? The only polling on this race in RealClearPolitics’ aggregation was a Fox survey from three weeks back, showing Jenkins ahead of Morrisey 25/21 with Blankenship at 16%. That leaves at least 38% making up their minds late in the game, and Blankenship’s last-minute TV push might just upend Republican efforts to take a key seat away from Democrats.
Addendum: Blankenship responds, in effect, that the president’s been captured by the establishment. Send me to Washington to save Trump from the swamp!
Blankenship responds to Trump: “The President… doesn’t know me and he doesn’t know how flawed my two main opponents are in this primary.” He added: “The establishment is misinforming him because they do not want me to be in the US Senate and promote the President’s agenda.”
— Dan Merica (@danmericaCNN) May 7, 2018