Election 2020

Blankenship Could Capsize GOP Plan to Sink Manchin

Blankenship Could Capsize GOP Plan to Sink Manchin
Former Massey CEO and West Virginia Republican Senatorial candidate Don Blankenship listens as supporter Doug Smith poses a question during a town hall to kick off his campaign in Logan, W.Va., on Jan. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

The GOP establishment, with West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin in its November election crosshairs, can’t get rid of former coal industry executive Don Blankenship.

As PJM reported before the May 8 primary vote, the GOP establishment was scared to death thinking about Blankenship carrying the party’s flag into the November election. West Virginia Republican voters agreed.

Blankenship finished in third place with 19.9 percent of the vote, behind Evan Jenkins, who pulled in more than 29 percent of the vote, and the first-place finisher, Patrick Morrisey, with 35 percent of the GOP primary votes cast.

Blankenship conceded the primary election.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) felt good enough about Blankenship’s thrashing to troll him with a tweet that read, “Thanks for playing @DonBlankenship.”

But Blankenship refuses to go away.

Undeterred by that third-place finish, Blankenship has vowed to run for Senate as a candidate of the Constitution Party this November.

“The political establishment is determined to keep me — the most anti-establishment candidate in the nation — out of the United States Senate,” he said in a statement announcing his plans.

“The press and the establishment have colluded and lied to convince the public that I am a moron, a bigot, and a felon. They even went so far as to lie about my chances against Senator Joe Manchin in the general election,” Blankenship added.

Republicans believed, pre-Blankenship, that Manchin was a Democrat whose Senate seat could be flipped to the GOP. Why not? West Virginia is Trump country. President Trump slammed Hillary Clinton with a better than 40-percentage-point thrashing in 2016. While his approval rating might be lower than the GOP would like elsewhere, West Virginians love Trump. CNBC reported his approval rating in West Virginia is always among the highest in the nation.

When the GOP became worried enough about Blankenship, Trump tweeted out a warning that there was no way the “Dark Lord of Coal,” as Rolling Stone called him, could win in November.

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

And the Republicans of West Virginia responded. Morrisey won. So what could possibly go wrong in November? Don Blankenship could be on the ballot and split the GOP vote, that’s what could go wrong.

“He may very well be the one that hands the election to Joe Manchin because you would imagine that he will not be taking many votes from Joe Manchin. The person he will be taking votes from is Morrissey,” Simon Haeder, a West Virginia University political science professor, told WBOY-TV.

However, all is not lost for McConnell, Trump and other Republicans who go to sleep dreaming about replacing Democrat Manchin with one of their own in the Senate.

West Virginia does have a law, a “sour grapes, sore losers law,” Steven Allen Adams, a West Virginia secretary of State spokesman, said, which is intended to keep people like Blankenship from running in November for the same seat for which they were defeated in the May primary.

Or does it?

“The code is not clear,” Robert Bastress, a professor at West Virginia University College of Law, told The Hill. “In my mind there’s no clear answer short of a state’s Supreme Court decision.”

Michael Kang, an Emory Law School of Law professor, agreed with Basters. He, too, said there is a loophole in the wording of House Bill 4434, the “sore loser law.”

The problem with the law that Blankenship’s attorneys could use to their client’s advantage comes down to the use of the word “are.”

Under the law, candidates can be nominated for office, and run in the November election, who “are not already candidates in the primary election for public office otherwise than by conventions or primary elections,” HB 4434 reads.

Kang and Bastress said the word “were” should be used instead of “are.” The difference between present and past tense could be just the opening Blankenship needs to convince a judge his name should be on the November ballot. A judge could agree that the law is intended to target people who “are” on the ballot and not “were” in a primary election. Of course, Blankenship is the latter, not the former.

“It’s not the strongest argument, but it’s ambiguous enough,” Kang said, and also stressed that Blankenship would have to be willing to “litigate this.”

You think the Dark Lord of Coal is afraid of a fight?

“Now that we know that the establishment will lie and resort to anything else necessary to defeat me,” Blankenship said, “we are better prepared than before.”

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