CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Political observers who know coal operator Don Blankenship say he is running for U.S. Senate, raising the level of his ongoing antagonism with incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin.

Blankenship was recently released after serving a year in jail for conspiring to violate mandatory mine safety laws leading up to the Upper Big Branch mine disaster in West Virginia.

The story was broken by Kennie Bass of WCHS-TV, and then Hoppy Kercheval of MetroNews independently confirmed that Blankenship’s paperwork will be filed today.

Those who know Blankenship say he has thousands of dollars in advertising lined up, starting tomorrow, which is the tip that he will run.

As Kercheval pointed out on “Talkline,” once Blankenship is considered an official federal candidate, broadcast media cannot refuse his ads. Also, as the election nears he will get he lowest unit rate for his ads.

Blankenship’s interest in running has been rumored for months. Even prior to this, he has taken out thousands of dollars in television ads that focus on his point of view of the Upper Big Branch mine explosion, laying blame on federal authorities and singling out Manchin for criticism.

On Wednesday evening, Blankenship tweeted for the first time since early this month, alluding to a new advertisement. He said nothing about a run for Senate but seemed to allude to his ongoing complaints.

Joe Manchin

The Manchin campaign released a low-key statement about Blankenship’s candidacy. It was titled “Manchin Campaign Statement On Growing GOP Primary” and none of the text mentioned Blankenship by name.

“Joe Manchin is focused on working in the Senate for West Virginia families, not campaign politics. He won’t be distracted by Mitch McConnell’s backroom deals in Washington, D.C.,” stated Manchin campaign spokesman Grant Herring.

Blankenship was last registered as a Republican in Williamson, Mingo County.

The Republican race has already been high-profile and competitive. Candidates include state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, Congressman Even Jenkins and former coal miner Bo Copley.

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Patrick Morrisey

Morrisey issued a statement today about Blankenship’s entry into the race.

“Everyone has a right to run for public office. I welcome anyone into this contest, but I will continue to run on my positive record of obtaining conservative results for coal miners and West Virginia taxpayers, fighting for the unborn, protecting gun rights, and ridding the state of this terrible opioid epidemic.”

On the other side of the race is Democratic incumbent Senator Manchin. The race has already been considered one of the most competitive in the country.

The state Democratic Party put out a statement tying Blankenship to the national Republican Party.

“It looks like Mitch McConnell recruited Don Blankenship to use his dirty money to attack Joe Manchin and distract from the nasty Republican primary. It’s shocking that even Don Blankenship would accept a backroom deal like this from McConnell,” stated Belinda Biafore, West Virginia Democratic Party chairwoman.

Back in July, Blankenship called running for Senate a possibility.

At that point, he said, “It’s always a possibility but more than anything I’m just still trying to figure out how to get the truth out about UBB and of course I do have a lot of love and interest in West Virginia – when you see we’re still 50th after all of these years – it doesn’t seem like we are ever going to get off the floor. It does cause one to stop and think if he can make a difference or not.”

He also summed up how the race might shape up.

“If I could get some momentum, some help, I might have a chance at winning a Republican primary, particularly. I assume (U.S. Senator) Joe Manchin would love to see me get in the race because he would probably think I would be more easily beatable than the others,” Blankenship said in July.

Blankenship, 67, was chairman and CEO of Massey Energy Co. from 2000 until 2010. Prior to that, he was president and chairman of A.T. Massey, starting in 1992.

A federal grand jury indicted Blankenship on Nov. 13 2014,  for conspiracy to violate mandatory federal mine safety and health standards, conspiracy to impede federal mine safety officials, making false statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as securities fraud.

That came after the Upper Big Branch mine disaster on April 5, 2010, in which 29 miners were killed in a Raleigh County coal mine explosion.

Blankenship has been involved with state and national politics for many years, usually as a financial backer.

In 2004, his “And For the Sake of the Kids” political action committee aimed to defeat incumbent state Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw. Attorney Brent Benjamin, a Republican, wound up defeating McGraw.

Blankenship spent a little more than $5.1 million in 2006 to try to flip the state Legislature to Republican control.

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