President Donald Trump warned West Virginia voters to “remember Alabama” on Tuesday when they cast ballots in the state’s Republican primary, cautioning them against supporting coal baron Don Blankenship’s bid to win a GOP Senate nomination.
“To the great people of West Virginia we have, together, a really great chance to keep making a big difference,” Trump wrote on Twitter Monday morning. “Problem is, Don Blankenship, currently running for Senate, can’t win the General Election in your State...No way! Remember Alabama. Vote Rep. Jenkins or A.G. Morrisey!”
Blankenship spent a year in jail after the 2010 explosion at his Upper Big Branch Mine, which killed 29 people. But despite his controversial candidacy, Republicans said the three-man GOP primary that also includes Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.) and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has tightened in recent days, with some polling putting Blankenship ahead.
The West Virginia Senate seat currently held by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is considered to be among the top pick-up opportunities for Republicans in November’s mid-term elections, one of several seats Democrats are defending in states where Trump won handily in 2016. But there is concern among Republicans that a Blankenship win on Tuesday could create a much easier path for Manchin to win reelection.
Beyond his criminal past, Blankenship has also delved into racial attacks on the campaign trail, labeling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) “Cocaine Mitch” in reference to a 2014 incident in which drugs were found aboard a shipping vessel owned by the family of McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Blankenship has also suggested that McConnell’s “China family has given him tens of millions of dollars,” also seemingly a reference to Chao, who was born in Taiwan.
A spokesman for Blankenship's campaign did not immediately return a request for comment.
Fresh on the minds of Republicans amid the West Virginia primary is last year’s Senate special election in Alabama, where GOP voters handed the nomination to controversial former state Supreme Court judge Roy Moore, who was accused during the general election of molesting a 14-year-old girl when he was in his 30s. Moore wound up losing the seat formerly held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), the first time Alabamians elected a Democrat to the Senate since the 1992.