I am frequently asked who I think will win the race for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in West Virginia. Short answer—I don’t know, and I would be crazy to predict. However, I am willing to give you possible scenarios for the three leading candidates, in order of the latest Fox News Poll.
Why Evan Jenkins wins: Jenkins was ahead of Patrick Morrisey by four points in the Fox Poll (25 percent to 21 percent). The leader gets hit hardest by opponents, but it’s still better to be ahead than behind. He had a solid debate performance Tuesday night that he can build on for the stretch run. Impressions are important and Jenkins looks and acts like someone you could imagine being in the Senate. Jenkins was in early on Trump and reminds voters of that so much that voters may just think that a vote for Jenkins is a vote for Trump.
Why Evan Jenkins loses: He has a tendency to look and act like a politician during a time when the mood is anti-establishment. When Jenkins talks about his record of votes in Washington, some voters just hear that he’s part of the swamp. Also, what’s with all the party switching stuff? We’ve had our share of that in West Virginia, but it seems opportunistic. As Martha MacCallum asked during the debate, should voters worry that he’ll flip again if the Senate goes Democratic? Some of those positions from back when he was a Democrat hurt him. He has a solid base in southern West Virginia, but he’s not as well known in other parts of the state.
Why Patrick Morrisey wins: He has already won statewide races—twice. Both times he defeated serious and well-financed Democratic opponents. Morrisey’s conservative bona fides are, as he often reminds us, well established. He was instrumental in leading the successful legal fight against the anti-coal Clean Power Plan and he has picked up some key national endorsements: Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz and the influential conservative magazine National Review. He should be strong in the eastern panhandle, which has become a power center for Republicans.
Why Patrick Morrisey loses: West Virginia voters are wary of “outsiders.” Former U.S. Senator and Governor Jay Rockefeller lived here for half a century and never quite shook the “carpetbagger” criticism. Morrisey lived in Washington D.C. and New Jersey (where he ran unsuccessfully for Congress) before moving to West Virginia and, according to Jenkins, has “Jersey values.” Morrisey also struggles with—and how do I say this politely—“the likeability factor.” He comes off as hard charging and aggressive… a little too aggressive. And finally, the Big Pharma/lobbyist tag weighs him down, despite his office’s legal actions against pharmaceutical companies.
Why Don Blankenship wins: So, you want an “anti-establishment, drain-the-swamp” guy? Here’s the poster boy. Who else would pick a fight with the U.S. Senate Majority Leader of the same party? The fact that Donald Trump won 77 percent of the vote in the 2016 Primary and 69 percent in the General Election tells you just how powerful that sentiment is in West Virginia. Blankenship came into Tuesday’s debate behind Jenkins and Morrisey, but helped himself considerably with a strong performance. Also, with Jenkins and Morrisey beating up on each other, Blankenship was able to escape unscathed and was given a wide path to make his points.
Why Don Blankenship loses: Three words: Upper Big Branch. Blankenship has tried, with some success, to convince the public that he was railroaded by the federal government. However, the fact remains he was tried, convicted and sent to prison for a year as a result of an investigation into Massey’s safety practices. That’s a hurdle too high to clear for many. Even voters who might be willing to give Blankenship the benefit of the doubt worry that he has just too much baggage to successfully unseat Joe Manchin in the fall.