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‘Dark Lord of Coal’ Casts Shadow Over West Virginia GOP Senate Primary

Don Blankenship kicks off senate campaign in west virginia

Don Blankenship, branded the “Dark Lord of Coal Country” by Rolling Stone in November 2010, wants to do more than push Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) out of Washington. Blankenship also wants to clear his name — and GOP leaders are afraid he’ll do both.

The fear is that Blankenship’s name on the November ballot will be as toxic as Roy Moore’s moniker was for the GOP in Alabama last December. And the West Virginia seat is one Republicans would love to flip in November.

Blankenship is campaigning for office while on supervised release from federal prison. The court-mandated supervision ends a few days after West Virginia’s May 8 primary.

Even though Blankenship is running for office in West Virginia, federal officials are managing his release in Las Vegas, which he and his attorneys have said is the former coal industry executive’s home.

In a court motion filed Wednesday, Blankenship and a new team of attorneys argued federal prosecutors and the Labor Department failed to turn over hundreds of pages of documents that could have helped the defense in his trial following the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners in West Virginia.

“The newly discovered evidence, withheld by the prosecution until after trial, would have tipped the balance in Mr. Blankenship’s favor,” the motion read.

A federal jury convicted Blankenship in December 2015 of conspiracy to violate national mine safety and health standards when he was chairman and CEO of Massey Energy Co.

Blankenship was sentenced to a year in prison and a $250,000 fine for his conviction on the misdemeanor charge.

He was found not guilty of felony charges involving an alleged conspiracy to block government inspections of Massey’s mining operations and misleading investors.

Blankenship’s effort to clear his name of a criminal conviction isn’t only being waged in court. He is also making his case to the Republican voters of West Virginia. Blankenship is running a radio ad that says the federal government — with the help of a judge appointed by President Obama — was out to get him.

Blankenship’s also running a TV ad that calls for the arrest of Hillary Clinton. His campaign has another that accuses one of his primary opponents — Patrick Morrisey — of not being pro-life, and still another ad that charges a third GOP candidate, Evan Jenkins, with being nothing but a career GOP politician who has been disloyal to President Trump.

“A lot of people outside of West Virginia look at this guy who did a year in prison … so they’re like, how can this be a serious candidate?” Mike Plante, a Democratic strategist based in West Virginia, told The Hill. “[But] the idea that the cultural elites are out against me … finds fertile ground.”