Republicans avoided a serious disaster in West Virginia Tuesday, as West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) defeated ex-con coal baron Don Blankenship (R) and Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) for the right to face Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).
Morrisey led Jenkins by 35 percent to 29 percent with Blankenship in a distant third at 20 percent as of 10:21 p.m. EST, when the Associated Press called the race.
Blankenship’s loss is a huge relief for Senate Republicans, who feared he might have had last-minute momentum in the race. He is just finishing up his parole after a year in prison for his role in the deaths of 29 of his workers in a mine explosion, and would have likely destroyed the GOP’s chances of defeating Manchin in a state Trump won by 42 percentage points in 2016.
But while Senate Republicans avoided a fiasco in the West Virginia, Rep. Robert Pittenger’s (R-NC) primary loss to a hardline pastor boosts Democrats’ chances in a key House race. Read about all of Tuesday’s big primaries from four states here.
Blankenship’s loss came after a nasty back-and-forth between Blankenship and Senate GOP leaders. A super PAC with ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) dropped more than $1 million on Blankenship’s head, attacking his ethics in TV spots. He responded with racially charged ads attacking McConnell’s “China family” and “Cocaine Mitch.”
But McConnell had the last laugh:
— Team Mitch (@Team_Mitch) May 9, 2018
Blankenship conceded earlier on in a short speech, while wondering aloud if President Trump’s last-minute anti-endorsement had knocked him out of the race.
Morrisey thanked Trump for the tweet as well, before making it clear he’d use the president to hammer Manchin.
“Joe Manchin has become just another rubber stamp for the liberal Washington elite agenda,” he said in his victory speech. “When President Trump needed Joe Manchin’s help, on so many issues Sen. Manchin said no.”
Manchin obviously would have loved to face the toxic Blankenship. But his allies had also strongly signaled that they’d rather face Morrisey than Jenkins — they spent more than $2 million to damage the congressman, seeing Morrisey as vulnerable due to his past as a lobbyist and the fact that he lived in New Jersey for most of his life.
“This out-of-state lobbyist doesn’t know squat about the needs of West Virginia,” Mike Plante, a spokesman for the pro-Manchin group that spent heavily to defeat Jenkins, said in a statement.
Republicans believe Manchin’s opposition to Trump and his daughter’s work for a company that jacked up prescription drug prices leave him vulnerable in the deep red state.
The race is just one of many big primaries on Tuesday across four states. Keep on top of them all here.