Trump tries to sink Blankenship in West Virginia primary

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

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

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 be the most Trumplike candidate, accusing the government of covering up its own failures and blaming his conviction on an Obama administration conspiracy.

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Rising political stars to watch in 2018
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Rising political stars to watch in 2018

Randy Bryce (D)

Bryce made waves earlier this year when he announced he would run against House Speaker Paul Ryan in the 2018 midterm elections. Bryce, a Democrat, is a U.S. Army veteran, cancer survivor and union ironworker.

Rep. Scott Taylor, (R-VA)

A former Navy SEAL, Taylor has represented Virginia's 2nd District since he was elected in 2016. He has branded himself as a Republican lawmaker who is unafraid to speak out against President Trump and members of his own party -- recently calling out Roy Moore for allegations of sexual misconduct.

Rep. Seth Moulton, (D-MA)

39-year-old Seth Moulton has increasingly emerged as a prominent House member and one to watch within the Democratic party. He served four tours of duty in Iraq and notably serves as the. Recently, he has advocated for "a new generation" of Democratic leadership.

Rep. Chris Collins, (R-NY)

Collins was elected to represent New York's 27th district on Capitol Hill in 2012, and has since positioned himself as a vocal right-wing defender within the Republican party. He also came out as one of President Trump's most vocal supporters leading up to an after the 2016 election.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.)

Krishnamoorthi was elected in 2016 -- making him one of the more freshman lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Still, the former lawyer with a past of aiding the Obama administration has played an integral role this year in congressional investigations into the Trump campaign's potential ties to Russia. As a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, he has taken many opportunities to speak critically of the clearance aides like Jared Kushner have -- and has firmly positioned himself as a staunch opponent of GOP efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, (R-AK)

As one of 21 women currently serving in the U.S. Senate, Murkowski has positioned herself as a more moderate leader within the Republican party. Murkowski refused to toe the party line on an attempted Obamacare repeal earlier this year, and has since raised skepticism over specific elements of the GOP tax bill and Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore.

Rep. Charlie Crist, (D-Fla.)

Crist is one of the more interesting players currently positioned in the political landscape. Once a Republican, Crist served as both attorney general and governor of Florida -- but then switched to a member of the Independent and eventually Democratic party. In his current House role representing Florida's 13th congressional district, Crist has emerged as a Democrat unafraid to take a middle-ground approach in his policy stances.

Sen. Tom Cotton, (R-AR)

As the youngest U.S. senator, Cotton's political future currently looks very bright. As one of the few Capitol Hill lawmakers that has yet to have a public feud -- on Twitter or otherwise -- with President Trump, Cotton was recently on the shortlist to replace Mike Pompeo as CIA director if Pompeo replaced Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, (D-NV)

Catherine Cortez Masto is the first Latina ever elected to the U.S. Senate.

Governor-elect Ralph Northam (D-VA)

Northam was elected governor of Virginia in the series of "anti-Trump" Election Day victories Democrats celebrated in Nov. 2017. Northam's victory over Ed Gillespie signaled a potential shift in the oft-fraught over Virginia battleground state -- and Northam's gubernatorial tenure will be one to eye in the context of midterms and the 2020 presidential election.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D, NY)

Many who watch politics closely have noted Gillibrand as one to watch since she was appointed to Hillary Clinton's former Senate seat in 2009, and then elected in 2012. Early in her Senate career, Gillibrand used her position as a member of the Committee on Armed Services to chalk up a major legislative win by championing the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Gillibrand has also recently spoken out against sexual harassment allegations stemming from both Democratic and Republican offices -- calling on both Sen. Al Franken and President Trump to resign.

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

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.

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 teenaged 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 for a Democrat in a Senate race in 25 years.

Trump then turned around and said he’d 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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