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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Four southern U.S. Senate races are still too close to call
GOP holding leads in Arkansas and West Virginia; Democrats holding tough in Georgia and Kentucky
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Two weeks out from election day, races for four southern U.S. Senate seats — two held by each party — are still too close to call, with control of the Senate hanging in the balance.
The latest polling shows races in North Carolina, Kentucky and Georgia are within the margin of error, while the race in Louisiana now seems certain to be heading toward a December runoff.
Depending on how these Southern races turn out, the question of which party will control the Senate could linger for more than a month before runoffs in Louisiana and possibly Georgia.
However, Republicans appear poised to pick up an open Democratic seat in West Virginia, and GOP U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton appears to have opened up a small lead over incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Pryor in Arkansas.
Democrats hold only eight out of 28 southern Senate seats. One of those seats, in West Virginia, is likely gone, and three others — in Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina — are in jeopardy.
The good news for Democrats is that two GOP-held seats, in Kentucky and Georgia, have turned out to be surprisingly competitive, despite the Republican tilt in both of those states.
Here are the current states of the southern Senate races:
Arkansas: The race between Cotton and Pryor has been neck-and-neck for the better part of a year, as outside groups poured tons of money into the Natural
State. But a Talk Business and Politics/Hendrix College poll released October 15 showed that Cotton has opened up an 8-point lead, the third media poll in a row that put the challenger ahead.
Louisiana: Recent polling shows Democratic U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu and her chief Republican rival, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, about even but both far from the 50 percent either would need to avoid a runoff in the state’s jungle primary, where all candidates from all parties run in the same race. That would set up a December 6 runoff between the two, a head-to-head match-up that’s still too close to call.
West Virginia: This race is to pick a successor to retiring Democratic U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller, and it looks increasingly like a GOP pickup, with U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito opening up a significant lead over Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. A CBS News/New York Times/YouGov poll in early October had Capito ahead by 23 points.
Kentucky: The Senate’s top Republican, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is in a pitched battle with Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. Recent polls have shown the race as either too close to call or with McConnell slightly in the lead.
Georgia: This race, to pick a successor to retiring Republican U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss, is a contest between two political newcomers, Republican David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn. Despite Georgia’ GOP tilt, Nunn has run a strong race, and the latest polling shows the contest within the margin of error. An interesting twist in Georgia is that if neither Perdue nor Nunn wins a majority, they would meet in a runoff December 10 — a possibility if the race is close and votes are syphoned off by third-party candidates.
North Carolina: Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan is seeking a second term against Republican State House Speaker Thom Tillis. Recent polling has shown this race is also within the margin of error.