Don Blankenship may have finished a distant third behind Patrick Morrisey and Evan Jenkins in the race for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate, but that does not mean he is out of the race. Blankenship campaign manager Greg Thomas told me on Talkline Thursday that the former Massey Energy CEO expects to play a role in the General Election contest between Morrisey and Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin.
First, we know that role will not be one of the loyal party member who backs the nominee. “No, Don Blankenship will not be supporting Patrick Morrisey for U.S. Senate,” Thomas said. That’s a pretty firm pledge, despite the fact that Morrisey said repeatedly after winning that, after a bruising campaign, he hoped the other candidates would pull together for him.
It’s evident that Blankenship thinks Morrisey, with his relocation to West Virginia from New Jersey and the lobbying by he and his wife in Washington, are part of the problem, not the solution. “Don Blankenship has worked real hard to advance conservative causes, to help the Republican Party in West Virginia and he isn’t going to sit back and let a corrupt carpetbagger hijack our party just so his wife’s lobbying firm can continue to cash in,” Thomas said.
I asked the Morrisey campaign for a comment. Spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik chose to ignore Blankenship and focus on Manchin. “There is a stark difference between Patrick Morrisey and Joe Manchin. Morrisey is a proven conservative who is supported by President Trump, defeated Obama’s War on Coal and expanded gun rights in West Virginia,” she said.
“Sen. Manchin supported Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, signed cap-and-trade legislation and sponsored a massive gun control bill. West Virginia voters have a choice between a proven conservative fighter who gets things done and a consummate liberal who hasn’t delivered for West Virginia.”
Okay, but what about Blankenship. What is he going to do?
“Right now he’s got a lot to think about,” Thomas said. “Don’s researching and evaluating his options,” Thomas said. “The one thing he’s going to make sure doesn’t happen is that Patrick Morrisey becomes a U.S. Senator.”
Thomas said one of those options is running as a third party candidate. The state’s “sore loser” law would appear to prevent that. That law says a candidate affiliated with a particular political party who loses in the Primary Election cannot switch their registration and run in the General Election under a different party label.
Thomas says Blankenship is considering that option despite what the code says. “It’s not our understanding right now that (running as a third party candidate) is an impossibility.” If Blankenship is precluded from running he could still back someone else.
Additionally, Blankenship could just use his considerable resources to mount a campaign to discourage voters from supporting Morrisey. The Attorney General is already going to be hit hard by Manchin, but also by national PACs, so Blankenship’s campaign would just be one more obstacle to what will already be a challenging race.
Conventional political norms suggest that political parties have healthy debates in the primaries and then pull together for the common good for the general, but the emphasis on individual candidate identities has eroded that. Intra-party splits and cross-party interference are the new normal.
That was evident in the U.S. Senate Primary here where the Republican establishment worked hard against Blankenship, while a Democratic PAC tried to influence the outcome of the Republican Primary.
Given the Wild West landscape of today’s politics and Blankenship’s persistence as a disruptor, his decision to insert himself in the General Election is not that surprising.