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GOP leaders dodge bullet in West Virginia as Morrisey wins U.S. Senate primary

Jailed former mine owner Don Blankenship finishes a distant third

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLESTON, West Virginia (CFP) — Republican leaders in West Virginia are breathing a sigh of relief after Attorney General Patrick Morrisey won the party’s U.S. Senate primary, ending an insurgent bid by Don Blankenship, who went to prison for his role in a deadly mine explosion.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey

Pre-election fears that Blankenship would win the GOP primary and hand the race to Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin in November did not come to pass, as Blankenship finished a distant third.

Morrisey took 35 percent, defeating U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, with 29 percent and Blankenship with 20 percent.

In his victory speech, Morrisey cast the upcoming race against Manchin in ideological terms, criticizing “Washington elites” who he said “push their liberal agenda down our throats.”

“The spend our money, they raise our taxes, and they sneer at our culture, our values, our jobs and our priorities,” he said.

He also faulted Manchin — perhaps the Senate’s most conservative Democrat — with being insufficiently supportive of President Donald Trump.

“When President Trump needed Joe Manchin’s help on so many issues, Senator Manchin said no,” Morrisey said. “Senator Manchin has repeatedly sided with (Senate Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer and his liberal friends over President Trump.”

Morrisey, 50, was first elected attorney general in 2012, the first Republican to hold that post in nearly 70 years.

Although he now casts himself as a champion of West Virginia values, Morrisey grew up in New Jersey, where he ran for Congress in 2000. While working as a lobbyist in Washington in 2006, he moved to Jefferson County, in the West Virginia panhandle which is part of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

With Republicans clinging to a one-seat Senate majority, the race in West Virginia — which Trump won by a stunning 42 points in 2016 — presents a prime pickup opportunity.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin

Manchin, 70, seeking a second full term in the Senate, easily won the Democratic primary. Despite being a former two-term governor and serving in statewide office since 2001, Manchin is considered among the most vulnerable Democratic senators in the 2018 cycle because of the size of Trump’s win in 2016.

On the eve of the primary, Trump weighed in on Twitter against Blankenship, telling Mountaineer State voters that the former coal mine company CEO could not win in November. He urged them to vote for either Morrisey or Jenkins, though he stopped short of endorsing either man.

Morrisey paid tribute to Trump’s tweet in his victory speech: “Mr. President, if you’re watching right now, your tweet was h-u-u-uge.”

Blankenship, 68, spent a year in prison for violating mine safety laws stemming from a 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine, which killed 29 miners. He launched his Senate bid after being released, pouring at least $3.5 million of his own money into his campaign to brand himself as an anti-establishment outsider.

Also on the primary ballot in West Virginia was the race in the 3rd U.S. House District, which Jenkins gave up to run for the Senate.

On the Republican side, State House Majority Whip Carol Miller of Crab Orchard won her party’s nomination. In November, she will face the Democratic nominee, State Senator Richard Ojeda, an Iraq war veteran who may be the best hope Democrats have for winning a House seat in West Virginia in 2018.


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