National Democrats have been not-so-quietly hoping that controversial ex-con and coal baron Don Blankenship wins the West Virginia GOP Senate primary in a few weeks, seeing him as by far the easiest opponent for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).
Now, they’re stepping up to try to make that happen.
A new Democratic super-PAC, Duty and Country, has launched a nearly half-a-million-dollar ad campaign blasting away at Blankenship’s two main primary opponents, Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. The group has no spots up attacking Blankenship, who’s fresh off a year in prison for his role in failing to prevent an explosion at one of his mines that killed 29 workers.
The attacks are reminiscent of a 2012 move by allies of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) who intentionally helped Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) win the GOP primary by viciously attacking his two primary opponents. Akin, always McCaskill’s preferred opponent, returned the favor with his “legitimate rape” comment, handing her the race.
The ads claim Jenkins sold out voters in the state when, as the head of the West Virginia State Medical Association, he made money by encouraging doctors to use an insurance company that overcharged patients. They describe Morrisey as a carpet-bagging “millionaire New Yorker and former lobbyist.”
The ads have close to $500,000 behind them, serious money in the inexpensive state, and the ad buy may grow between now and election day. Early Federal Election Commission reports indicate that much of the group’s spending is focused on Jenkins, the candidate Democrats have privately told TPM they’d least like to face. So far only the ad attacking Jenkins is running on TV, according to Republicans tracking the state’s ad buys.
The group has longtime West Virginia Democratic strategist (and former Manchin consultant) Mike Plante involved. But its mailing address is at the same Washington, D.C. building where the Senate Majority PAC and other top DC Democratic groups are based.
Plante argued the group was focusing on the pair because his numbers showed they were the most likely to win, though he didn’t deny that having Blankenship as the nominee would be beneficial.
“In our data it seems clear that Evan Jenkins or Patrick Morrisey is likely to be the Republican nominee. Obviously Don Blankenship is attracting a lot of attention and spending more money but there seems to be a ceiling on him in the Republican primary,” he said.
Jenkins’ and Morrisey’s campaigns fired back.
“Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are so scared of Evan Jenkins they’re launching false attacks in order to distract from Evan’s unwavering support of President Trump and his agenda,” said Jenkins spokesman Andy Sere. “West Virginians will see through the Pelosi/Schumer scheme to deceive them.”
“Patrick Morrisey has been elected statewide as attorney general of West Virginia twice, because voters recognize his conservative record of expanding gun rights, protecting the unborn, defeating Obama’s war on coal, and tackling the opioid crisis. The Democrats are merely going after him because they know Patrick will defeat Joe Manchin in the general election,” said Morrisey spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik.
The super-PAC isn’t the only national group meddling in the race: A GOP group with ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is up with ads attacking Blankenship.
Here’s the hit against Jenkins:
And against Morrisey: