The Republican establishment in Washington is trying to make sure that Don Blankenship does not win the party’s nomination for U.S. Senate in West Virginia. However, the GOP leaders’ strategy is to be coy about their role.
A political action committee called “Mountain Families PAC” is spending nearly $700,000 on ads in West Virginia against Blankenship. The ads accuse Blankenship’s former company, Massey Energy, of contaminating drinking water with “toxic coal slurry.” The narrator asks the question, “Isn’t there enough toxic sludge in Washington?”
According to reports by the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s Jake Zuckerman and Alex Isenstadt of Politico, the PAC is linked to U.S. Senate Republican leaders who believe Blankenship would be a stain on the national party.
Politico reports, “As the race gets closer, alarms are going off in the Senate leadership suites. At a Monday evening Senate Republican leadership meeting, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) focused on Blankenship’s weakness, explaining to other Republicans that the former coal magnate would be difficult for the party to defend in the state, according to attendees.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has already publicly criticized Blankenship, added on Tuesday: “We’ll wait to see who the nominee is and get behind a Republican candidate, and hopefully it will be one who is actually electable.”
That’s a not-so-subtle jab at Blankenship. Washington Republicans believe they have a real chance of taking the seat now held by Democrat Joe Manchin, but they see Blankenship as a losing proposition in November.
Despite the jabs, Republican leaders are trying to keep their fingerprints off the race. They are still stinging from unsuccessful attempts last year to help Alabama incumbent Senator Luther Strange defeat the controversial Roy Moore.
Ironically, the Republican establishment’s efforts to defeat Blankenship actually fit the candidate’s narrative. He is continuing Donald Trump’s “drain-the-swamp” mantra.
His campaign put out a new release in response to the PAC ads saying, “The Republican Party swampers in Washington have come to the surface to oppose my candidacy for the U.S. Senate. They are swamp creatures who pretend to be conservatives, but are instead liberal big spenders.”
Blankenship is expected to hit back even harder in his next wave of advertising.
This is the new paradigm for the Republican Party, at least in West Virginia. Donald Trump won 77 percent of the vote in the 2016 Primary and 69 percent in the General Election by running against the Washington establishment. That set a new path forward for Republican candidates like Blankenship—run against your own party leaders.
The negative ads against Blankenship will hurt him because, well, attack ads work. However, the effectiveness among the small percentage of Republicans and Independents expected to vote in the Primary Election will be somewhat negated by Blankenship’s “swamp creature” rebuttal.