by Ron Gregory
CHARLESTON – Political observers have guessed for some time that former Massey Energy chief operating officer Don Blankenship would support a candidate to challenge U.S. Senator Joe Manchin next year.
Now, informed sources close to Blankenship confirm that the former coal executive will run against Manchin himself in what reportedly would be a $25 million campaign.
Bad blood runs deep between Democrat Manchin and Republican Blankenship. Although only convicted of a misdemeanor in federal court for conspiracy to willfully violate mine safety and health standards, Blankenship spent a year in a federal penal institution. Manchin was highly critical of the ex-CEO, making numerous comments about his alleged guilt in connection with deaths that occurred at the Upper Big Branch mine in 2010. Despite a five-year federal probe, Blankenship was not charged with knowingly causing any deaths to occur.
Blankenship has been an outspoken critic of many Democrats, including Manchin, for years. Several years ago, he led successful efforts to defeat an incumbent Democrat supreme court justice and later helped finance campaigns aimed at wrestling the majority in the state legislature from Democrat to Republican. Although that effort initially failed to overturn the 80-year Democrat monopoly, pundits believe it laid the groundwork for what are now Republican majorities in both the state house of delegates and senate.
Assuming Blankenship enters the race as a Republican, he would apparently join previously-announced candidate Congressman Evan Jenkins in the 2018 primary. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is also said to be planning to announce his Republican candidacy within days.
Blankenship has long been a polarizing personality, often explaining that “people either love me or hate me.”
Much of that division was seen during his federal trial, as family members of those who perished at UBB sat through testimony and deliberations praying for felony guilty verdicts. Others supported Blankenship and said he had done nothing illegal. Ironically, he was made to serve his prison sentence in a facility that housed nothing but felony convicts, except for him.
During his time in jail, Blankenship wrote, published and distributed a book that described him as an “American political prisoner” and told his side of the story. The 67-page booklet was mailed to thousands of West Virginia residents.
Although he currently claims an out-of-state home as his residence, one political consultant said, “that can be fixed pretty quickly. You know he owns property in West Virginia where he can relocate, if he needs to, in order to run.”
The filing period for the 2018 election begins and ends in January. The primaries will be in May with the general election in November.