With Don Blankenship mounting a last-minute surge, President Trump waded into the GOP Senate primary in West Virginia on Monday, stating flatly that the ex-convict "can't win" in November and would blow the party's chances of picking off vulnerable incumbent Democratic Sen.
Loyalty to the president is a central issue in the Republican primaries, and GOP candidates across all four states are aiming to prove to voters that they are the true Trump ally. National Republicans are scrambling to avoid a repeat, anxious Blankenship - convicted in 2015 of mine-safety violations - can't beat Democratic Sen.
Rep. Evan Jenkins, left, and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey greet President Trump at a roundtable discussion in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., on April 5. McConnell, who has opposed Blankenship's Senate run, is married to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.
"Our polls are close", West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, another candidate for the Senate nomination, told a small audience here on Sunday evening.
In reply, Blankenship Monday also reminded voters of that Alabama race and the fact that Trump endorsed Moore. Moore lost a deep red seat to Democrat Doug Jones, thinning Republican's majority in the U.S. Senate to the current 51-49 margin.
Everybody has an opinion about Don Blankenship in West Virginia - and they have for years. "Problem is, Don Blankenship, now running for Senate, can't win the General Election in your State ..."
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Blankenship argued that neither Jenkins or Morrisey could beat Manchin without his support, but he would prevail over the Democratic stalwart "even without the support of the establishment".
In a statement Monday, Blankenship dismissed Trump's tweet, calling the president "a very busy man and he doesn't know me and he doesn't know how flawed my two main opponents are in this primary". His rise in the Republican field comes shortly after he was convicted in 2015 of skirting safety regulations that led to the Upper Branch mine disaster in 2010, which killed 29 miners and injured several others.
Since 2000 the Republican presidential nominee has carried the state.
Blankenship predicts he cannot only win the primary but also defeat incumbent Democratic U.S. Joe Manchin in November "without the support of the establishment".
"No more fumbles like Alabama", he wrote.
Both McCready and Manning have out-fundraised their opponents, Pittenger and GOP Rep. Ted Budd, a sign that the party could have a realistic shot with voters in a suburban district President Trump won in 2016, but may have fallen out of favor within the first year and a half of his administration.
He's also focused his anti-establishment attack directly at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom he calls "Cocaine Mitch" in a recent ad. Each claimed to have the support of the president, even though Mr. Trump made it explicit that he has no preference between the two.