For a guy who once said ex-con coal baron Don Blankenship had “blood on his hands,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has been notably restrained while discussing the former GOP Senate candidate since Tuesday’s primary.
In a pair of TV interviews following Blankenship’s primary loss to West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R), Manchin refused to directly criticize Blankenship for his racially charged attacks against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) — while favorably comparing him to Morrisey as the true West Virginian (Morrisey moved there from New Jersey a decade ago).
Manchin also wouldn’t directly attack Blankenship for his role in failing to prevent the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine that killed 29 people in 2010.
And he refused to directly say whether he thought Blankenship’s ads attacking McConnell’s “China family” were racist, instead dodging the question in an interview with NBC News while offering tepid criticism.
“I’d like to think that wasn’t, the terms he used, and how he used them, I would never take that course. And if Don felt that he was explaining it from his upbringing, the culture that he comes from in West Virginia. And Don’s on that Kentucky-West Virginia border. I don’t know, I can’t say, I haven’t heard that before,” Manchin said in a meandering answer. “There’s Italian-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Japanese-Americans, you know we’re all ethnic of some derivative. But the way it was said, it was taken in a connotation that might not have been flattering to a person who’s a proud American, no matter what their descent is.”
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Manchin also wouldn’t take the bait when pushed on Fox News about Blankenship.
“There was only one truly conservative Republican West Virginian in the race, and that was Don Blankenship. We have had our differences on many issues. But Don, you cannot question Don’s conservatism and also him being a Republican in West Virginia. He’s the only one,” he said in a shot at Morrisey’s roots.
Blankenship had gone scorched-earth against Manchin on TV during the primary, but since his loss has been at least as critical of Morrisey, saying he wouldn’t support his former primary rival.
Manchin isn’t exactly embracing the deeply controversial coal baron in these statements. But he does seem to be looking to avoid antagonizing his on-again, off-again foe, while possibly looking to woo Blankenship supporters who don’t like Morrisey (or at least depress GOP support for Morrisey).
Manchin and Blankenship have had a complicated relationship — they were on cordial terms for much of Manchin’s time as governor, and Manchin even flew on Blankenship’s private plane to get back to West Virginia after the UBB Mine explosion since he couldn’t get a direct flight. But he became much more critical of Blankenship when the facts came out about the disaster and the coal baron took the heat for those miners’ deaths. Blankenship’s Senate race was seen partly as a way to get back at Manchin, who he blamed for an unjust prosecution almost as much as the Obama Justice Department.
Manchin ducked when asked if he’d accept a Blankenship endorsement, saying he’d have “no control” over that and hadn’t talked to Blankenship recently.
“Like I said, we have had our differences. But you cannot questions Don’s West Virginia Republican conservative roots. And we have been head to head down on many issues. I just, with the horrible tragedies we have had, it’s just — my heart still aches for all the families. And I think you know how close I have been to the families,” he said. “But on other issues on that, we have had our differences, and there have been some things we have agreed on politically.”
Manchin alluded to that barrage of ads Blankenship ran in his Fox interview, suggesting he hoped things would quiet down for the sake of the families of the dead miners.
“I hope that, in time, the good lord lets Don find peace in his heart, because these people need to move on with their lives. That’s all I have ever said,” he said. “And I hope that happens. I hope Don finds peace in his life and allows these families to find peace in theirs.”