For years, it seems that Republicans have been plagued by bad candidates. Even before last year’s Roy Moore fiasco in Alabama, there was Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin in Missouri who claimed in 2012 that a woman’s body could “shut down” a potential pregnancy during a rape. In 2010, Christine O’Donnell told Delaware voters, “I’m not a witch.” Before that, there was the time when Louisiana Republicans nominated a former Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, for governor. Now there are fears that Republican voters may be about to make a similar mistake.
The fears are not about Arthur Jones, the 70-year-old white supremacist who won the Republican nomination in the Illinois third congressional district. Jones was unopposed in the Republican primary last March after the party essentially wrote off the district, which has been represented by Democrat Daniel Lipinski since 2005. Illinois Republicans have disavowed Jones and refuse to support him.
It also isn’t California that has Republicans worried. Last week, the California GOP ejected Patrick Little, a Republican candidate seeking to challenge Dianne Feinstein (D) for her Senate seat. Little was polling in second place among Republican hopefuls even after praising Adolf Hitler and calling for “limiting representation of Jews in the government.”
The current candidate that has Republicans in a panic is West Virginia senatorial hopeful, Don Blankenship. Blankenship is among the Republicans attempting to unseat Joe Manchin (D), a popular former governor who was elected to replace Robert Byrd (D) in the Senate in 2010. Any Republican challenging Manchin is in for a tough race.
As far as we know, Blankenship isn’t a white supremacist or a witch. At this point, his views on “legitimate rape,” are also not known. The problem with Blankenship is that he is an ex-convict.
In West Virginia, a coal mining state, Don Blankenship went to prison for his role in the deaths of 29 miners in 2010. Blankenship served one year on a misdemeanor conviction for conspiring to violate federal safety standards at the Upper Big Branch mine after being acquitted of several felony charges. Blankenship was released in May 2017 and immediately began a Twitter feud with Sen. Manchin. Because Blankenship was not convicted of a felony, he did not lose his right to vote. On his campaign website, he calls himself a “political prisoner.”
So, why would anyone vote for Don Blankenship? Blankenship is positioning himself as the Trumpist candidate in a state that Donald Trump won by more than 40 points in 2016. His primary strategy of running against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is similar to that of Roy Moore in Alabama.
In April, the ex-con candidate released a campaign ad referring to McConnell as “Cocaine Mitch,” a Trumpesque nickname. In a press release accompanying the ad, Blankenship explained that McConnell’s father-in-law, one of his campaign donors, owned a shipping company that “was implicated recently in smuggling cocaine from Colombia to Europe, hidden aboard a company ship carrying foreign coal was $7 million dollars of cocaine.”
Also similar to the Alabama race, there are two other likely Republican candidates, U.S. Representative Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. Both have vulnerabilities. Jenkins is a former Democrat who switched parties several times, the last in 2013 for his successful congressional campaign. Morrisey is former pharmaceutical company lobbyist and his ties to pharmaceutical companies raised questions during his time as attorney general. Blankenship has attempted to tie Morrisey to the opioid epidemic. Morrisey also ran an ad in which he said he wanted to “not to just change Washington, but to blow it up and reinvent it.”
The only public poll for the primary shows Jenkins in the lead with 25 percent and Morrisey with 20 percent. Blankenship trailed in the mid-April poll with 16 percent. Politico reports that internal surveys show Blankenship gaining ground. To avoid a runoff, a candidate must receive 50 percent of the vote so if Blankenship is among the top two finishers on Tuesday he has a chance to win the nomination.
President Trump is among the Republicans who realize the danger of nominating Blankenship. Trump tweeted this morning, “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!”
Trump also didn’t support Roy Moore initially. The president backed Luther Strange, the incumbent appointed to take the seat of Jeff Sessions. Alabama voters rejected the president’s endorsement and concerns about Moore’s electability.
If Blankenship does not win the nomination, he may still scuttle the eventual Republican candidate. He has vowed not to support Morrisey and says he is considering a third party candidacy, even though West Virginia has a “sore loser” law against such campaigns.
If West Virginia Republicans back Blankenship in this week’s primary, Republicans may lose one of their best chances to pick up a Democrat Senate seat and enlarge their majority. The nation will find out tomorrow whether Republican voters learned a lesson from Roy Moore’s candidacy or whether they still prefer eccentric, anti-establishment candidates regardless of the risk.
[Photo credit: Don Blankenship.com]