One of the hottest political stories in the country leading up to the May 8 Primary Election in West Virginia was Don Blankenship. Was the droll ex-con coal baron with a penchant for politically incorrect answers to the most basic questions really going to win the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate?
As it turned out, Blankenship would not even sniff a victory. He limped in at 3rd place with 20 percent of the vote, 12,664 votes behind Evan Jenkins and 20,273 behind Patrick Morrisey. Blankenship won a mere four counties—Calhoun, Clay, Mingo and Roane.
Blankenship, who confidently predicted a victory by as much as 20 points just hours earlier, confessed, “I’m very surprised, not just about the loss, but at this point, the size of the loss.”
So, what happened? Fox News Politics Editor Chris Stirewalt provided the succinct analytics: “We all bought into a little bunkum.” He’s referring to the national media, although I had a spot on the bunkum bandwagon as well.
There was a consensus that Blankenship had a solid debate that gave him a bump in the closing days of the campaign. After that, the story gets a little fuzzy. There were a lot of vague stories about polls showing Blankenship surging and perhaps even in the lead.
The national media latched on to the story and the echo chamber got louder and louder, intensified by Washington’s reaction to a possible Blankenship victory, which caused Blankenship to respond to the Republican establishment, which triggered more push back from national Republicans.
I fell into the self-created trap of over analyzing the potential impact of President Trump’s tweet encouraging voters to pick Morrisey or Jenkins and to bypass Blankenship. Was it possible that Trump’s tweet actually raised Blankenship’s stature as the anti-establishment candidate who was “Trumpier than Trump?”
Talk about over thinking something…
But on Election Day, the growing clouds of controversy turned into a heat storm—lots of lightning and thunder, but no rain. The people who actually decide the election—the voters—cleared the storm skies by casting their ballots and decisively picking Morrisey, while relegating Blankenship to the “also ran” category.
Morrisey ultimately benefited from experience and geography. He had already run two successful statewide campaigns for Attorney General against tough opponents. Additionally, he had a significant power base in his home area of the eastern panhandle.
Morrisey finished 7,600 votes ahead of Jenkins statewide, and the bulk of that separation came in just three counties. Morrisey finished 6,000 votes ahead of Jenkins in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan Counties. A whopping 3,300 of those votes came from Berkeley County.
Blankenship’s candor when his leading opponents equivocated was refreshing, but too often he digressed into bombast. Philip Wegmann, an opinion writer for the conservative Washington Examiner, called it “nihilist populism.” That made for an uncommon amount of press and sensational stories, but not many votes.