(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump implored Republicans in West Virginia not to vote for Donald Blankenship in that state’s Republican primary on Tuesday, saying the candidate -- a coal executive who served prison time for a safety violation that killed 29 miners -- can’t win the general election.
Trump has one big reason not to support Blankenship: Roy Moore, the defeated GOP Senate hopeful in Alabama, who won the primary but lost the general election he was favored to win after reports that he’d made inappropriate advances toward teen-aged girls.
“To the great people of West Virginia we have, together, a really great chance to keep making a big difference,” Trump said in a Twitter post. “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!”
In reply, Blankenship Monday also reminded voters of that Alabama race and the fact that Trump endorsed Moore.
“We all really like President Trump’s policies but we know that he doesn’t get things right,” Blankenship said in a paid program on a community-access television station in West Virginia. “He recommended that people vote for a guy that was basically accused of pedophilia in Alabama.”
In the three-way West Virginia primary, some Republicans are concerned that a victory by Blankenship would mean a winnable seat becomes nearly impossible to defend, repeating the results in Alabama. Blankenship is facing Representative Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to gain the party’s nomination to run against incumbent Democrat Joe Manchin.
Blankenship said Trump doesn’t know him, and blamed the Washington establishment for swaying the president against him. He said he’s the best positioned candidate among the three to defeat Manchin, and said that he’s "Trumpier than Trump."
Republicans, who control both houses of Congress as well as the White House, are looking to break with election history dictating that the party of the president typically loses seats in mid-term elections.
In Alabama, Trump backed incumbent Luther Strange to fill the Republican-held seat vacated when Jeff Sessions became Attorney General. Outspoken conservative Moore won the primary but lost the seat to Democrat Doug Jones in December after the allegations became public.
After that loss, Trump said on Twitter: “The reason I originally endorsed Luther Strange (and his numbers went up mightily), is that I said Roy Moore will not be able to win the General Election. I was right!”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California said during an appearance on Fox News that Democrats in the Senate have blocked crucial legislation, such as appropriations measures that cleared his chamber, and bolstering Republican ranks there will be key.
"I think the president is right here," McCarthy said. "Let’s find the very best person in West Virginia and not have a situation where we can’t compete in November."
Blankenship is running a scorched-earth campaign, attacking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. On a West Virginia radio show, he suggested that McConnell faces a conflict of interest because he’s married to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who was born in Taiwan to Chinese parents. He called Chao’s father a “wealthy China person.” He followed the comments with an ad saying: “Swamp captain Mitch McConnell has created millions of jobs for China people.”
Morrisey, one of the two beneficiaries of Trump’s tweet, said he hasn’t spoken to the president in the past few days, but nominating a Republican who can defeat Manchin is key.
"This tweet is really a defining moment in the campaign because I think that it’s going to make it clear that Don Blankenship should be rejected," Morrisey said on Bloomberg Radio. "I feel good about it, and I think this presidential tweet really could make a difference."
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