Ex-convict Don Blankenship loses to Patrick Morrisey in West Virginia Senate race

Patrick Morrisey is President Donald Trump’s new man in West Virginia.

The Mountain State Republican won a heated primary on Tuesday, defeating U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins and Don Blankenship, the former coal baron who mounted an insurgent campaign for the nomination after emerging from a year in prison following his conviction for conspiring to violate mine safety laws. Morrisey, who has served as the state’s attorney general since 2013, picked up support early in the race from the party establishment.

In the days ahead of the vote, with internal polls showing Blankenship surging, the establishment mounted a last-minute effort to make sure he didn’t become the nominee. Blankenship was the chief executive of Massey Energy when the company’s Upper Big Branch mine exploded in 2010, killing 29 miners.

President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Monday to urge voters in West Virginia to reject the former coal executive, saying Blankenship “can’t win the General Election” in November.

Responding to Trump’s tweet, Blankenship predicted on Monday that he would not only win the primary but that he would “beat Joe Manchin even without the support of the establishment.” 

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Republican Senate candidate Don Blankenship
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Republican Senate candidate Don Blankenship
Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, Republican U.S. Senate candidate from West Virginia, pauses while speaking during a town hall campaign event in Huntington, West Virginia, U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018. Blankenship has previously declared avid support for pro-coal President Donald Trump and signaled he was aligned with West Virginia's hard-working electorate. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Former Massey Energy Chief Executive Don Blankenship (3rd L) and his attorney Bill Taylor (4th R) are met by media outside the Robert C. Byrd U.S. Courthouse in Charleston, West Virginia December 3, 2015. Blankenship was found guilty in federal court on Thursday of conspiring to violate safety standards at the Upper Big Branch mine, the site of a 2010 blast that killed 29 people. REUTERS/Chris Tilley
Former Massey Energy Chief Executive Don Blankenship is talking on his mobile phone as he walks into the Robert C. Byrd U.S. Courthouse in Charleston, West Virginia December 3, 2015. Blankenship was found guilty in federal court on Thursday of conspiring to violate safety standards at the Upper Big Branch mine, the site of a 2010 blast that killed 29 people. REUTERS/Chris Tilley
Don Blankenship, CEO of Massie Energy, talks with reporters near the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia, April 6, 2010. Rescue crews moved giant drills to a West Virginia coal mine Tuesday in hopes of boring deep inside to find four miners missing after an explosion that killed at least 25 of their co-workers in the worst U.S. mine disaster in a quarter century. REUTERS/Mike Munden (UNITED STATES - Tags: DISASTER ENERGY BUSINESS)
MORGANTOWN, WV - MARCH 01: Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Don Blankenship speaks at a town hall meeting at West Virginia University on March 1, 2018 in Morgantown, West Virginia. Blankenship is the former chief executive of the Massey Energy Company where an explosion in the Upper Big Branch coal mine killed 29 men in 2010. Blankenship, a controversial candidate in central Appalachia coal country, served a one-year sentence for conspiracy to violate mine safety laws and has continued to blame the government for the accident despite investigators findings. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Donald 'Don' Blankenship, former chief executive officer of Massey Energy Co., smiles as he exits the Robert C. Byrd U.S. Courthouse in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015. Blankenship, one of Appalachias last coal barons, was found guilty of plotting to speed up production by ignoring safety rules at a company mine that later blew up killing 29 workers. Photographer: Calvin Mattheis/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, Republican U.S. Senate candidate from West Virginia, speaks during a town hall campaign event in Huntington, West Virginia, U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018. Blankenship has previously declared avid support for pro-coal President Donald Trump and signaled he was aligned with West Virginia's hard-working electorate. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Donald 'Don' Blankenship, former chief executive officer of Massey Energy Co., left, and one of his attorneys Alex Macia, arrive at the Robert C. Byrd U.S. Courthouse in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015. The jury ended an eighth day of deliberations without a verdict after a juror became ill. Prosecutors allege that he coal executive plotted to ignore safety rules before a 2010 mine explosion that killed 29. Photographer: Emily Harger/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Instead, Morrisey will face two-term incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin, the president’s most dependable Democrat in the Senate, who cruised to an easy victory Tuesday over progressive primary challenger Paula Jean Swearengin to secure the Democratic nomination. Despite voting in favor of the White House’s agenda 61 percent of the time, the president has targeted Manchin, the lone Democratic senator in a state Trump won by 42 percentage points in 2016 and remains extremely popular. 

Trump first waded into the race last month at a roundtable event on taxes in White Sulphur Springs. Standing beside Morrisey and Jenkins, he called on voters to oust Manchin. Blankenship did not receive an invitation.

“We have to get more Republicans in office,” Trump said. “You’re going to have a chance to get a senator that’s going to vote our program. That’s going to help you in so many ways.”

Blankenship tried to paint Jenkins and Morrisey as establishment pawns, while mainstream Republican groups poured money into the race in hopes of keeping Blankenship off the ticket. Upper Big Branch had made Blankenship the face of greed and recklessness for many West Virginians.

A group with ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell aired anti-Blankenship advertisements, and McConnell prodded Trump to get involved and weigh in on behalf of Jenkins and Morrisey. Blankenship had dubbed McConnell “Cocaine Mitch” and created a firestorm when he referred to the Kentucky senator’s father-in-law as a “Chinaperson” and later defended his use of the racist term. 

If Morrisey wins on Nov. 6, it would mark a milestone in the president’s takeover of what was once known as the bluest state in America. The state’s other senator, Shelley Capito, is a Republican who worked closely with the White House on rolling back environmental regulations to bolster coal. Last August, Gov. Jim Justice, a billionaire coal executive, announced his decision to switch parties and become a Republican at a rally with Trump. All three of the state’s U.S. representatives are Republicans. The GOP commands majorities in the state Senate and House of Delegates, and it controls five of six offices of the executive branch.

But Morrisey faces a formidable opponent in Manchin. The 36-year veteran of West Virginia politics has served as governor and secretary of state and enjoys the advantage of incumbency and the biggest war chest in the race. Manchin handily defeated his primary opponent, progressive activist Paula Jean Swearengin, on Tuesday and raised nearly $6 million by last month. That’s far ahead of Morrisey’s $1.9 million.

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West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin
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West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin
West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin (R), who broke ranks to vote with Republicans for Jeff Sessions to become U.S. Attorney General, looks towards U.S President Donald Trump during a Supreme Court listening session at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) walks into Trump Tower on December 12, 2016 in New York City. President-elect Donald Trump continues to hold meetings with potential members of his cabinet at his office.

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) (C) arrives in the underground subway system for a vote at the U.S. Capitol in Washington May 14, 2015. President Barack Obama's trade agenda, which focuses squarely on developing stronger ties with Asia, gets a shot at new life on Thursday when the U.S. Senate is set to hold an important test vote on legislation to help him complete a Pacific Rim deal.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) talks on his mobile phone as he arrives for the weekly Democratic caucus luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, February 4, 2014.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) shakes hands with U.S. Senator Joe Manchin as they arrive on Capitol Hill before Kerry briefs members of the Senate Banking Committee behind closed doors about Iran and his recent negotiations in Europe, in Washington November 13, 2013.

(REUTERS/Larry Downing)

US Senator Joe Manchin leaves after a meeting with US President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower December 12, 2016 in New York.

(KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) meets with Supreme Court Justice nominee Merrick Garland (L) in his office on Capitol Hill April 5, 2016 in Washington, DC. Garland is meeting with senators today while visiting Capitol Hill.

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

From left, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., conduct a news conference in the Capitol on airport security, April, 05, 2016. They urged that new security provisions to help protect 'soft targets' be included in the upcoming Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization legislation.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia arrives to meet with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., December 12, 2016.

(REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

US President Barack Obama steps off Air Force One with Senator Joe Manchin, D-WV, upon arrival at McLaughlin Air National Guard Base in Charleston, West Virginia on October 21, 2015. Obama is in Charleston, West Virginia to take part in a discussion on drug abuse.

(MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., attend a luncheon in the Capitol Visitor Center to present a Congressional Gold Medal to Sgt. John M. Watson, 96, of Beckley, W.Va., who was recognized by the Tuskegee Airmen Association, May 20, 2015.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) talks on his mobile phone as he arrives for the weekly Democratic caucus luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, February 4, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
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  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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