CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The outgoing chairman of the West Virginia Republican Party said former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship will have the party’s support if he’s nominated in the May U.S. Senate primary race.

“We welcome the candidacy of anyone who is anxious to beat (U.S. Senator) Joe Manchin,” said Conrad Lucas on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

Conrad Lucas

“That is the top priority in West Virginia for 2018 and I think that we’re going to do it.”

On Thursday, Blankenship launched his campaign with the release of a new ad critical of the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s investigation into the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster that claimed the lives of 29 coal miners.

The ad includes quotes from MSHA investigators.

It’s the latest in a series of ads Blankenship has put out since completing his one year sentence in May on a misdemeanor conviction for conspiring to willfully violate mandatory mine safety laws at UBB prior to the explosion.

Claiming he was wrongfully convicted, Blankenship has argued the “evidence of a government cover-up is overwhelming.”

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.

With his entry into the race, mine safety is expected to be a forefront of the U.S. Senate campaign.

Manchin, a Democrat, is seeking re-election.

The other Republicans running are 3rd District Congressman Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.), state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Bo Copley, a laid off coal miner from southern West Virginia.

“We have a lot of great folks who are running for the nomination for U.S. Senate and it’s up to the voters to decide that,” Lucas said. “We have six months until the primary and that gives every candidate the opportunity to get their message out, to talk to folks.”

May 8th is Primary Election Day in West Virginia.

“If he’s the nominee, that means the voters have already spoken,” Lucas said of Blankenship.

“That means the Republican voters in West Virginia would have overwhelmingly decided that that’s who they want as their nominee, so, of course.”

Lucas is stepping down as state chair in January to run for the Republican nomination for the U.S. House in West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District.

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