Trump tries to sink Blankenship in West Virginia primary

Dylan Stableford
Senior Editor

On the eve of the West Virginia Senate primary, President Trump urged voters in the state to reject Republican Don Blankenship, a coal magnate who served a year in prison after a deadly mine explosion, and instead cast their ballots for either of two other GOP candidates.

“To the great people of West Virginia we have, together, a really great chance to keep making a big difference,” Trump tweeted Monday morning. “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!”

“The establishment is misinforming him because they do not want me to be in the U.S. Senate and promote the president’s agenda,” Blankenship responded in a statement. “Tomorrow, West Virginia will send the swamp a message: No one, and I mean no one, will tell us how to vote. As some have said, I am Trumpier than Trump and this morning proves it.”

Both Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey have positioned themselves as ardent Trump supporters, denouncing special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation as a “witch hunt” and echoing Trump’s calls to “drain the swamp.”

But Blankenship, who was convicted on misdemeanor charges stemming from a 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners, may in fact be the most Trumplike candidate, accusing the government of covering up its own failures and blaming his conviction on an Obama administration conspiracy.

“It was a fake prosecution,” Blankenship said during a Fox News debate last week.

“It’s as obvious as can be that the Upper Big Branch explosion was caused by the government,” he said Monday.

The winner of Tuesday’s primary will face incumbent Democrat Joe Manchin in November. Reports over the weekend said internal polls were showing Blankenship surging into a narrow lead.

Rep. Evan Jenkins, left, and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey greet President Trump at a roundtable discussion in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., on April 5. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

During last year’s special election for an open U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, Trump backed Luther Strange over Roy Moore in the Republican primary. Moore won despite allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with teenage girls when he was in his 30s. Trump endorsed him after the primary, but Moore lost to Democrat Doug Jones, sending shockwaves through the GOP. The deep-red state had not voted a Democrat into the Senate for 25 years.

Trump then turned around and said he had known Moore would lose. The president may be facing a similar situation with Blankenship.

The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., has been more vocal in warning voters against Blankenship’s baggage.

“I hate to lose. So I’m gonna go out on a limb here and ask the people of West Virginia to make a wise decision and reject Blankenship!” Trump Jr. tweeted. “No more fumbles like Alabama.”

Blankenship responded by casting Trump Jr. as part of “the establishment.”

“No, I’m realistic,” Trump Jr. replied. “I know the first thing Manchin will do is run ads featuring the families of those 29 miners killed due to actions that sent you to prison. Can’t win the general… you should know that & if others in the GOP won’t say it, I will.”

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(Cover photo credit: AP Photo/Steve Helber)