Don Blankenship is a bad candidate who is currently on his way to winning the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in West Virginia. The former CEO of Massey Energy, who was imprisoned for one year for violating mine health and safety standards following a devastating mine explosion that killed 29 miners, is surging in the polls ahead of Tuesday’s primary election.
The Weekly Standard reported two internal campaign polls Monday that show Blankenship leading his competitors. In one poll, Blankenship draws 31 percent compared to Rep. Evan Jenkins’ 28 percent and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s 27 percent. In another poll, it’s Blankenship 28 percent, Morrisey 27 percent, Jenkins 14 percent.
Two weeks ago Blankenship was trailing both candidates. He’s not charismatic. He’s not particularly articulate. But he is controversial. He has, perhaps, the worst personal history of any candidate running for election in the 2018 cycle with a chance at winning his party’s nomination (unchallenged “Nazis” excluded).
Republicans worry they’ll blow their chance to unseat Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., because of Blankenship’s 2015 misdemeanor conviction and one-year sentence for conspiring to violate mine health and safety standards during his time as Massey’s CEO when the Upper Big Branch Mine exploded. Manchin is one of the most vulnerable Democratic senators running for re-election in 2018. But all he would need to do in the general campaign is put the families of those dead miners in front of a camera and tell their story. A campaign ad need not be much longer than this 2016 clip from “60 Minutes” describing how the mine was mismanaged under Blankenship’s watch.
Compound this deeply flawed history with his recent racially suggestive comments about “China people” and the most inarticulate, cringe-worthy defense of those comments possible, and you have a recipe for electoral disaster.
Even President Trump thinks Blankenship is a loser.
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
And yet Blankenship is leading the field. What is happening?
Republican voters hate the D.C. swamp more than any single candidate’s flaws, and Blankenship is tapping into that hatred. He’s running hard against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the final weeks of the race. He brought “Ditch Mitch” caps to the primary debate. He hid under his podium when the candidates were asked if they would vote for McConnell for majority leader. He’s assailed “swamp captain” McConnell, and in his controversial political ad, Blankenship asserted that McConnell has created “millions of jobs for China people” and profited from his relationship with his “China family” — a reference to Peter Schweizer’s book “Secret Empires,” which claims that McConnell has profited from his wife’s ties to China and adjusted his votes in the Senate to benefit those relationships.
In the weeks since he debuted his attacks on McConnell, Blankenship has blown past his competition for a real shot at winning the Republican nomination for Senate. This is the same strategy that Roy Moore used to defeat Luther Strange in the Alabama Republican primary for U.S. Senate, before allegations of sexual misconduct destroyed his campaign. Indiana candidate for U.S. Senate Mike Braun is adopting a similar strategy, campaigning against his Washington-insider rivals, characterizing them as part of the “swamp.”
The primary election is May 8. If voters in West Virginia choose to nominate Blankenship for Senate, it will more than signal that they are not happy with swamp “leadership.” It will show that they are willing to toss political grenade candidates even more explosive than Donald Trump at Washington until the status quo changes.
Chris Pandolfo is a staff writer and type-shouter for Conservative Review. He holds a B.A. in politics and economics from Hillsdale College. His interests are conservative political philosophy, the American founding, and progressive rock. Follow him on Twitter for doom-saying and great album recommendations @ChrisCPandolfo.
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