CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Booth Goodwin, U.S. Attorney during the federal trial of former coal executive Don Blankenship, is one of the officers of a political action committee taking aim at Blankenship’s Republican primary opponents for U.S. Senate.
The ultimate goal of the political action committee is to help out the presumed Democratic nominee, incumbent U.S. Senator Joe Manchin.
But the degrees of separation between Goodwin and Blankenship make for a strange bedfellows twist.
Contacted this morning and asked to confirm whether he’s the Booth Goodwin listed as treasurer for the Duty and Country PAC, Goodwin responded, “Do you know another Booth Goodwin?!”
He then directed questions to Mike Plante, spokesman for the political action committee.
Plante said the organization is directing its fire at state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Congressman Evan Jenkins because they appear to be the front-runners in the Republican primary.
“Our focus right now is on Morrisey and Evan Jenkins. Our data indicates that one of the two of them would most likely be the nominee, so that’s why we’re focused on what we’re focused on,” Plante said.
“Don Blankenship’s participation in the race is at this point not a focus for us.”
Plante said the PAC could point its advertising against Blankenship if polling would show that he becomes a front runner.
The West Virginia primary is May 8.
“Everything we do is data driven,” Plante said. “So if that data were to change at some point in the near future and lead us to believe that there was a need to change the current strategy, we would do that.”
Goodwin was the United States Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia from 2010 to 2015.
Blankenship’s trial on conspiracy charges relating to coal mine safety lasted from October to December of 2015. The charges stemmed from the deadly explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine that killed 29 workers in 2010.
Blankenship was convicted of a misdemeanor charge of conspiracy to violate mine safety regulations and spent a year in prison.
In 2016, Goodwin ran for governor, losing in the Democratic primary to billionaire businessman Jim Justice, who received support from many of Manchin’s longtime political associates.
Now Blankenship, out of prison and nearing the end of his supervised release, is running for U.S. Senate and hoping to take on Manchin.
Lawyers for Blankenship on Tuesday filed a motion to have his sentence vacated, alleging that federal officials didn’t properly turn over all the relevant documents that might have helped his case at the time.
Steve Ruby, Goodwin’s top assistant during the trial, commented that the timing before the election did not seem coincidental.
“He’s three weeks away from an election. It sounds to me like he’s behind in the polls,” Ruby, now in private practice with work that includes representing Manchin, said Wednesday afternoon.
“If there were any merit to this whatsoever, he would have filed it while he was still in prison and could have benefited from it instead of waiting until almost election day.”
Blankenship’s participation has drawn scrutiny from Republican leaders nationally.
A political action committee called Mountain Families PAC, with behind-the-scenes backing by national Republicans, is running a campaign titled, “Toxic Politician.” Politico reported that current Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate would prefer Blankenship not carry the GOP banner into November.
Meanwhile, “Duty and Country, which describes itself as “dedicated to electing Democratic candidates,” began a statewide advertising campaign Wednesday.
The campaign calls Jenkins and Morrisey “unacceptable candidates.”
The advertising campaign does not mention any other Republican candidates including Blankenship, Tom Willis, Bo Copley and Jack Newbrough.
When contacted Wednesday by MetroNews, both the Jenkins and Morrisey campaigns fired back.
“It’s no surprise Joe Manchin is meddling in the Republican primary. As his approval rating sinks to new lows, so goes his campaign tactics,” Jenkins campaign spokesman Andy Seré said.
“D.C. Democrats peddled these same falsehoods against Evan in 2014 — claims so misleading TV stations pulled the ads down. We expect voters will see Manchin’s desperate measures for what they are.”
Morrisey campaign spokesperson Nachama Soloveichik said voters know Morrisey’s record.
“Patrick Morrisey has been elected statewide as attorney general of West Virginia twice, because voters recognize his conservative record of expanding gun rights, protecting the unborn, defeating Obama’s war on coal, and tackling the opioid crisis.
“The Democrats are merely going after him because they know Patrick will defeat Joe Manchin in the general election,” Soloveichik said.
Duty and Country hardly shows any money on hand in its latest filing with the Federal Elections Commission.
By March 31, the PAC had raised $150.
It had spent $64.05.
But Plante said the political action committee’s updated financial reports would show a different situation.
“We’re following all the disclosure requirements and meeting those dates. This close to the election, there are 24-hour and 48-hour reporting requirements. If you look at those you’ll see other activity,” Plante said.
Plante said the point of view of the PAC is to help Democratic candidates for office who have a proven track record for working families.
He later specified that means Manchin.
The Democratic race includes not only the incumbent senator but also progressive Paula Jean Swearengin.
“We’re an independent PAC and have nothing to do with the Senator’s campaign. But this seat is competitive because of Joe Manchin,” said Plante, who was campaign spokesman for Charlotte Pritt in 1996 when she beat Manchin in the Democratic primary for West Virginia governor.
“We expect it to remain so, and that’s what makes this seat viable for Democrats in this election.”
Plante said it’s not yet determined whether Duty and Country will remain active for the general election.
“We intend to participate in this election right now,” Plante said. “We’re focused on getting to May 8 and we’ll make decisions after the primary election the campaign activity slacks off into the summer and heats up again in the fall. So we’ll evaluate based on the resources we have and where we think we can be of most help.”
MetroNews News Director Jeff Jenkins contributed to the story.