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Don Blankenship denied ballot slot in West Virginia U.S. Senate race

Secretary of state says “sore loser” law prevents Blankenship from running as a minor-party candidate after losing GOP primary

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLESTON, West Virginia (CFP) — Don Blankenship will not be allowed to run as the Constitution Party’s U.S. Senate candidate in West Virginia in November because of a state law that prohibits candidates who lose major-party primaries from making minor-party bids, the state’s top election official has decided.

Don Blankenship

The ruling by Secretary of State Mac Warner is a victory for Mountaineer State Republicans, who feared a third-party bid by Blankenship would siphon off votes from their nominee, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is trying to unseat Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin.

However, Blankenship has indicated he would challenge any attempt to keep him off the ballot, and Warner has already hired outside legal counsel for the expected court fight.

Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, spent a year in federal prison for violating mine safety regulations after 29 miners died in an explosion in his company’s Upper Big Branch Mine in 2010, the deadliest U.S. mine accident in the last 40 years.

Insisting that he was unfairly prosecuted by the Obama Justice Department, he launched a campaign for the Republican nomination for Manchin’s Senate seat. His candidacy unsettled GOP leaders, who feared his nomination would hand Manchin an easy re-election.

During the campaign, Blankenship carried on a nasty public feud with the top Republican in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, even airing a TV ad calling him “Cocaine Mitch,” a spurious charge based on a report that cocaine had been found on a ship belonging to a shipping company owned by the family of McConnell’s Chinese-American wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

President Donald Trump also intervened before the May primary, urging his supporters not to vote for Blankenship, even though he had fashioned himself as an enthusiastic supporter of the president.

After finishing third in the Republican primary, Blankenship refused to endorse Morrisey and later accepted an offer from the Constitution Party to be its nominee. Because the party is not recognized as an official party in West Virginia, Blankenship then had to collect at least 4,400 signatures to get on the ballot.

In a July 26 letter to Blankenship, Warner, a Republican, said that while Blankenship did collect enough petition signature to qualify as the Constitution Party’s candidate, his certification was being denied state law does not allow candidates who lose a primary to change their registration to run as a member of a third party.

West Virginia is one of 40 states with “sore loser” or “sour grapes” laws that prohibit primary losers from trying to run in a general election.

Blankenship’s effort to get into the general election after running into primary difficulty is not without precedent in recent U.S. Senate elections.

In 2006, then-U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut created his own party to run in the general election after losing a Democratic primary. He won in November.

In 2010, in Florida, then-Governor Charlie Crist ran for the Senate as a Republican but switched to an independent candidacy after it was clear he would be unlikely to win the GOP primary against Marco Rubio. Rubio won that race; Crist was elected to the U.S. House in 2016.

Manchin — running for re-election as a Democrat in a state Trump won by 40 points in 2016 — is at the top of the Republicans’ target list. However, recent public polling has consistently shown him with a lead over Morrisey

Failed GOP U.S. Senate candidate Don Blankenship will make 3rd-party bid in West Virginia

Blankenship’s move could complicate efforts to defeat Democrat Joe Manchin, but state law might keep him off the November ballot

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLESTON, West Virginia (CFP) — Two weeks after coming in a distant third in a Republican primary for West Virginia’s U.S. Senate seat, Don Blankenship, a former coal baron who went to prison for his role in a deadly mine disaster, has announced he has accepted a third-party nomination for the seat, a move that could harm Republican prospects for defeating incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin in November.

Don Blankenship

However, to get on the ballot, Blankenship may need to successfully challenge a state law that prevents losing candidates in major-party primaries from running in the general election under the banner of a third party, which he is vowing to do.

“The political establishment is determined to keep me—the most anti-establishment candidate in the nation—out of the United States Senate,” Blankenship said in a May 21 statement announcing that he had accepted a nomination from the Constitution Party.

“Although the establishment will likely begin their efforts against us by mounting a legal challenge to my candidacy, we are confident that—if challenged—our legal position will prevail, absent a politically motivated decision by the courts.”

Blankenship’s statement also included a comment from the Constitution Party’s vice chair, Phil Hudok, saying that the party looked upon Blankenship’s candidacy as a “great opportunity to put the principles of our party on display and to elect someone who will represent the values of West Virginians instead of those of the DC establishment.”

Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, spent a year in federal prison for violating mine safety regulations after 29 miners died in an explosion in his company’s Upper Big Branch Mine in 2010, the deadliest U.S. mine accident in the last 40 years.

He has insisted that federal mine inspectors were responsible for the accident and that he was unfairly prosecuted by the Obama Justice Department.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey

Republican leaders were relieved when Blankenship was defeated in the May 8 primary by Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, after President Donald Trump intervened and urged his followers not to support Blankenship because he could not win a general election against Manchin.

However, since his defeat, Blankenship has refused to endorse Morrisey and has continued a public feud with the top Republican in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who spearheaded the stop-Blankenship effort.

To get on the ballot in West Virginia, a minor party candidate needs to collect roughly 4,400 petition signatures by August 1. However, under the state’s “sour grapes” law, candidates who lose a primary in May aren’t eligible to get on the November ballot through the petition process, according to a guide for candidates prepared by the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office

In his statement, Blankenship did not indicate what legal argument he planned to advance to try to get around the prohibition.

As attorney general, Morrisey would normally be responsible for defending the state’s legal position in court. A spokesman for Morrisey’s office declined say if he would recuse himself when asked by the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

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.

GOP leaders fear Alabama-style debacle in West Virginia U.S. Senate primary

A win by jailed former mine operator Don Blankenship could ensure Democrat Joe Manchin’s re-election

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLESTON, West Virginia (CFP) — Republican party leaders in West Virginia are bracing for the possibility that a coal mine owner who went to prison after 29 of his workers were killed by an explosion in an unsafe mine might end up as their nominee for the U.S. Senate, handing the seat to Democrats in November.

Don Blankenship

Heading into Tuesday’s primary, polls showed no clear leader in the GOP Senate race between Don Blankenship, U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who are all vying for the right to take on Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin in November.

Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, spent a year in prison for willfully violating mine safety laws after a 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal killed 29 miners, the deadliest mine accident in the United States in 40 years.

GOP leaders have become alarmed at the possibility that they will be saddled with a flawed candidate and lose a winnable Senate race, a point President Donald Trump made in an election-eve tweet: “Remember Alabama. Vote Rep. Jenkins or A.G. Morrisey!”

Trump’s reference was to the race for an open Senate seat in Alabama, where Democrat Doug Jones pulled off an upset in December after the Republican nominee, Roy Moore, was accused of sexually pursuing young girls, a charge he denied.

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

Blankenship, 68, has maintained that he is innocent of the charges brought against him for the Upper Big Branch mine explosion, blaming the disaster instead on federal mine inspectors. He has poured at least $3.5 million of his own money into his Senate campaign, trying to brand himself as an anti-establishment outsider.

Among Blankenship’s targets has been the top Republican in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. In one ad, he calls McConnell “Cocaine Mitch,” a spurious charge based on a report that cocaine had been found on a ship belonging to a shipping company owned by the family of McConnell’s Chinese-American wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

Although McConnell and his wife own stock in the shipping company, there is no evidence either of them or their families members had any connection with the cocaine shipment.

Until Blankenship began rising in the polls, Jenkins and Morrisey had mostly turned their fire on each other. The question now is whether either one of them will be able to defeat Blankenship and preserve Republican hopes in November.

West Virginia does not have primary runoffs, so whichever candidate wins a plurality Tuesday will get the nomination.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia

Manchin, 70, is seeking a second full term in the Senate. 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.

Jenkins, 57, was elected to represent the state’s 3rd District in 2014 after toppling then-U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, a Democratic titan who had served 19 terms in Congress.

Morrisey, 50, was first elected attorney general in 2012, the first Republican to hold that post in nearly 70 years. A native of New Jersey who ran for Congress from that state in 2000, Morrisey moved in 2006 to Jefferson County, a county in the West Virginia panhandle which is part of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

Also on the primary ballot are races in the the 3rd District, which takes in the lower third of the state. Seven Republicans, including four current or former state House members, are vying for the nomination to succeed Jenkins, with House Majority Whip Carol Miller of Crab Orchard establishing a strong fundraising advantage.

The likely Democratic nominee is populist State Senator Richard Ojeda, an Iraq war veteran who may be the best hope Democrats have for winning a House seat in the Mountaineer State in 2018.

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