The Republican Party dodged a huge bullet on Tuesday night, as former coal baron and convicted criminal Don Blankenship finished a distant third in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in West Virginia.
The New York Times called the primary for Patrick Morrisey, the state’s attorney general. With about 94 percent reporting, Morrisey was pulling 35 percent, while Congressman Evan Jenkins was sitting at 29 percent. Blankenship was hovering just above 20 percent, and three other candidates combined for about 16 percent of the vote.
Blankenship, who spent the most of anyone in either primary including incumbent Democrat Joe Manchin, is the former CEO of Massey Energy, a now-defunct coal company which saw the death of 29 miners in the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster. Blankenship later went to prison for conspiracy to violate federal mine safety laws.
While in prison, he released a manifesto blaming Manchin and former President Barack Obama for “persecuting” him, and then filed to run for Senate. In the past few days, internal polling showed Blankenship edging out Morrissey and Congressman Evan Jenkins, who finished second, which caused Donald Trump to do this tweet:
Blankenship was also ardently opposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose former chief of staff runs a firm that ran attack ads on Blankenship. Blankenship responded by referring to McConnell as “Cocaine Mitch” in an ad and calling his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, a “wealthy Chinaperson.”
In his concession speech, Blankenship rambled about his prosecution and said he’s going to spend his newfound time not running for Senate in Paris instead.
Morrisey will face Manchin, who fended off a challenge from the left by environmental activist Paula Jean Swearengin on Tuesday, in the general. In winning Republican primary, Morrisey dominated the northern part of the state, while Jenkins won most counties in the southern half of the state.
McConnell’s campaign danced on Blankenship’s grave:
The seat is seen as one of the Republicans’ prime pickup opportunities in November, as Trump won the state by a whopping 42 points in 2016. Manchin, who prior to becoming a Senator was the state’s governor, is a conservative Democrat who has voted with Trump 61 percent of the time.
Blankenship’s parole, meanwhile, ends at midnight.
CORRECTION, 05/14/2019, 5:26 P.M. ET: This post originally stated that Blankenship was a convicted felon. While he was indicted on three felony charges in connection with deaths at a mine he owned, he was acquitted of the felonies and was convicted only of a misdemeanor, for which he served a year in prison. We have updated the post to reflect this fact.