West Virginia GOP Voters Reject Blankenship in Senate Primary

(Bloomberg) -- West Virginia Republicans nominated state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey as their U.S. Senate candidate Tuesday, rejecting the anti-establishment, scorched-earth campaign of former coal executive and ex-convict Don Blankenship.

Blankenship trailed in third place behind Morrisey and Representative Evan Jenkins in a closely watched race that drew the intervention of President Donald Trump.

The result will be a relief to Republican leaders in Washington, who had warned that Blankenship was too tainted by his past and too controversial to win a general election against Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who coasted to renomination. Blankenship spent a year in prison on a criminal conviction after a 2010 mine explosion killed 29 workers.

Morrisey ran as a more mainstream Republican and vowed to be an ally of Trump in Washington. He’s likely to have the full support of the party’s Senate campaign arm.

Voters in Ohio, Indiana and North Carolina also were voting in primaries Tuesday. Along with West Virginia, the primaries in Indiana and Ohio set up crucial races that may determine which party controls the Senate next year as Republicans try to oust Democratic incumbents in states won by Trump in 2016. The GOP controls the Senate 51-49.

Cordray Nominated

In Ohio, Democrat Richard Cordray, a former Obama administration official, won the gubernatorial nomination over progressive ex-congressman Dennis Kucinich. He will face Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine in November. Governor John Kasich cannot run again because of term limits. Representative Jim Renacci won the GOP primary to take on Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, who is favored to hold his seat.

Businessman Michael Braun won Indiana’s Republican primary to run in November against Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly, who is seeking a second term to represent the heavily Republican state.

Braun prevailed over two established Republican politicians, Representatives Luke Messer and Todd Rokita, according to Associated Press vote tallies, after a bruising campaign in which each candidate competed over who was most closely aligned with Trump.

Brian Howey, publisher of the nonpartisan Howey Politics Indiana political report, said that pledging fealty to Trump carries risks for Republican candidates in November.

“The president’s standing with independent voters is pretty poor, and whoever is running in November is going to need those independent voters. There are real dangers in tacking too close to Trump,” he added.

In North Carolina there’s no race for governor or Senate this year, but voters renominated a group of House members, including two Republicans likely to face competitive races: Ted Budd and George Holding. Incumbent Representative Robert Pittenger lost his race in the Republican primary.

Trump took the unusual step of interceding in the West Virginia Republican contest and evoked last year’s special election for the Senate in Alabama, in which a Democrat defeated a highly controversial Republican candidate. On Monday he tweeted: “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 closed his campaign with race-baiting ads labeling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s father-in-law a "China person." He attacked the Kentucky Republican as "Cocaine Mitch" and declared himself "Trumpier than Trump."

McConnell’s political operation tweeted after the result: "Thanks for playing, @DonBlankenship."

Initially dismissed as a serious contender, leaked internal polls commissioned by Republicans found Blankenship surging in the final days before the primary.

Manchin, who previously served as West Virginia’s secretary of state and governor, has been a prime target for Republicans seeking to flip a Senate seat in their favor. The Republican-trending state voted for Trump by a whopping 42 points in the 2016 election.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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