Blankenship wages war on GOP after losing Senate primary
Don Blankenship lost his Senate primary in West Virginia, but the former coal baron is still causing problems for the Republican Party.
Blankenship has said the GOP’s newly minted Senate nominee, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, would likely lose in the fall — and promised to work to defeat him. He’s not the only sore loser: In Ohio, businessman Mike Gibbons is harboring lingering frustration over Rep. Jim Renacci’s primary tactics during their Senate race, according to a Republican close to Gibbons, and is not yet prepared to endorse the congressman’s campaign.
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Republicans are banking on a unified base to defeat red-state Democratic senators who have specialized in getting cross-party votes in the past. But a few primary also-rans’ unwillingness to get behind the party is already making people nervous in a couple key GOP Senate targets. In West Virginia, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin looks more vulnerable than ever — just as Blankenship and his campaign manager have opened a rift in the state Republican Party.
“Obviously I’m worried,” said Mitch Carmichael, the Republican president of the West Virginia state Senate. “But I think it will be seen as just sour grapes.”
Blankenship, who last year finished a prison sentence for conspiring to violate mine safety standards and came in third place after running a divisive and controversial campaign, has doubled down on a campaign pledge to never support Morrisey, writing in an open letter to Trump: “Patrick Morrisey will likely lose the general election.”
Blankenship has never been a party man — since the primary, he has continued to attack Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who he memorably dubbed “cocaine Mitch.” But Blankenship was considered a threat to win the nomination at one time and he has a big megaphone. And Greg Thomas, Blankenship’s campaign manager, has gone further, saying in a local radio interview after the primary that the former coal executive was taking a couple weeks off, but evaluating options for the general election. He called Morrisey a “corrupt carpetbagger.”
In addition to working with Blankenship, Thomas is the executive director of the state Senate caucus. Carmichael said state senators are united behind Morrisey, and they are evaluating whether Thomas can continue to work with them if he also aids Blankenship in opposing the attorney general’s campaign. Carmichael also spoke with Thomas recently to convey frustration about the comments on Morrisey. (Thomas did not return multiple emails requesting comment.)
“It was very disappointing he took that approach,” Carmichael said. “You can represent your client, but you can’t also represent the state Senate candidates who are united behind Patrick Morrisey.”
The process has gone more smoothly in other states. In Indiana, Republicans are putting the long and bloody primary behind them to back businessman Mike Braun in the general election. Rep. Todd Rokita, one of Braun’s primary opponents, traveled to Indiana with Vice President Mike Pence last week for a rally with President Donald Trump, and Braun’s campaign hired Rep. Luke Messer’s former finance director, a signal of their support for him. Other members of Messer’s team are in talks with the campaign too as Braun staffs up for the general election.
Braun was in Washington this week, where Sen. Todd Young introduced him to fellow Republican senators and his own fundraising steering committee. Young is also planning to organize a meeting with the full Indiana delegation during Braun’s next trip to Washington, according to Cam Savage, a consultant for Young. And Pence returned to Indiana for a public event Friday, where he also hosted a fundraiser for Braun and several other Republican Senate candidates