Senate campaign heating up
by Ron Gregory
Charleston – Just days from the primary election and nearly six months prior to the general, it is obvious that West Virginia’s United States Senate campaign will be one of the most explosive in the country.
Veteran Democrat Senator Joe Manchin is said to be vulnerable by several national organizations and his general election opponent, Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is already touting a poll taken three days after the May 8 that shows the AG two points up on Manchin.
But supporters of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, one of the opponents Morrisey defeated in the primary, vow to never support the AG. In a race where Blankenship claimed 20 percent of the GOP vote, the loss of that block of voters would be a problem for Morrisey.
Blankenship had said just before the primary that he would “never” support Morrisey.
The ex-CEO’s spokesman, Greg Thomas, reiterated that this week on WV MetroNews. “No, Don Blankenship will not be supporting Patrick Morrisey for U.S. Senate,” Thomas said on “Talkline.”
In fact, Thomas said Morrisey’s nomination assures a Manchin win in November. The spokesman continued rhetoric used by Blankenship during the primary campaign where he criticized Morrisey and his wife for allegedly lobbying for major drug companies. West Virginia has been at the center of an “opioid epidemic” during the past several years. Morrisey routinely answered Blankenship by saying he had never lobbied for the drug companies and he had sued them and recovered funds to help fight the drug problems.
“Joe Manchin and everybody else knows that Patrick Morrisey is the most flawed GOP Senate candidate in the country,” he said. “They have an absolute stack, books and books, binders and binders if you will, of opposition research on this guy.”
Morrisey won the primary with 35 percent of the vote, with Rep. Evan Jenkins finishing second at 29 percent. Jenkins, who represents the state’s third district in the house of representatives, has not been as vocal as Blankenship since the primary.
Blankenship and Manchin have openly feuded since a mine explosion at Upper Big Branch led to a single misdemeanor conviction of the ex-CEO for conspiring to violate mine health and safety standards. He spent a year in prison as a part of his sentence in federal court. Twenty-nine miners perished in the 2010 explosion.
Manchin once said Blankenship “has blood on his hands” and suggested the former CEO leave the state and never return.
During the latter stages of the primary campaign, Blankenship had said he would consider a third-party run for the senate if he lost. Some political strategists suggested that approach would violate what is known as the “sore loser” statute of state law that does not appear to permit someone who loses a primary to re-enter the race later as an independent or third party candidate.
Thomas did not comment on the manner in which Blankenship might oppose Manchin, but both he and the CEO have refused to rule out running as a third-party candidate. It is also possible that another person could be recruited to run on a third-party ticket or Blankenship could simply form an independent group to expend funds against Morrisey.
The AG consistently ran on a platform of being the “most conservative” candidate in the primary race. He will apparently continue that theme and his support for President Donald Trump, who is immensely popular in the Mountain State, into the fall battle with Manchin. The sitting senator has been labeled as an “independent senator” in advertisements in support of his candidacy.
Both Manchin and Morrisey campaign as staunch supporters of the Second Amendment, which they interpret to provide nearly unlimited access to guns by American citizens.
Even an issue they agree on has raised questions, however. Jenkins questioned Morrisey’s familiarity with guns during the primary. In a social media post, Jenkins copied a photo being used by Morrisey to emphasize his pro-gun position. It showed the AG holding a rifle and apparently preparing to shoot it.
In his response post, Jenkins continued his campaign criticism of Morrisey for being a “carpetbagger” from New Jersey. Morrisey once ran for the house from the Garden State and finished last in a Republican primary before moving to West Virginia. He has now been elected this state’s attorney general twice.
Jenkins wrote, “Your Jersey is showing, Patrick. If you’re going to criticize my 100% pro-gun, 100% pro-West Virginia voting record, at least find a West Virginian to show you the right way to hold a rifle before you air your opioid industry-funded attack ads. I’m not sure how it’s done up north, but any REAL Mountaineer is going to see right through this fraud… #WVSEN #TeamJenkins #WeNeedAMountaineer”
Several political operatives responded to Jenkins’ comments positively. Since the primary, some have alleged that Morrisey “has never had a hunting or fishing license and likely never had a gun in his hand until that posed photo opportunity.”
The Corridor Chronicle asked the Morrisey campaign, in an email, whether or not the candidate has or has ever had a hunting and/or fishing license. Two days later, they had not responded although responses have normally been almost immediate.
Asked if they knew whether Morrisey had a hunting and/or fishing license, a spokesman for Manchin’s campaign said, “we don’t believe he does – or that he ever did.”
In the past, Manchin has aired commercials showing him shooting a gun in the forest.