Election day is here in West Virginia, where Republicans have grown increasingly alarmed by ex-coal executive and former prisoner Don Blankenship’s rise in the final days leading up to Tuesday’s primary.
Blankenship, who spent a year in prison for violating mine safety standards after a mine explosion killed 29 people, has seen a late surge, with a couple of internal GOP polls showing him narrowly in the lead. But Republicans fear a Blankenship primary win would doom their chances against Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinAdministration bears down in late push for CIA nominee Trump records robocall in support of Renacci ahead of Ohio Senate primary GOP nightmare looms in West Virginia MORE (D-W.Va.), a top GOP target in November.
Republicans are hoping that either GOP Rep. Evan JenkinsEvan Hollin JenkinsTrump records robocall in support of Renacci ahead of Ohio Senate primary GOP nightmare looms in West Virginia Flake says he’ll donate to Manchin if Blankenship wins primary MORE or state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) can pull off a win against Blankenship.
Man who says his cousins died in blast at Blankenship mine still votes for him
Updated at 7:48 p.m.
During an interview with outside a West Virginia polling place, one man declared he’d still be voting for Blankenship even though three of his cousins died in the blast at Blankenship’s Upper Big Branch Mine.
“I want an honest crook, and that’s Blankenship,” the man told ABC News.
Blankenship served a year in jail on a misdemeanor violation of mine safety rules related to that explosion, but claims he was set up by the government.
Polls are closed
Updated at 7:30 p.m.
The polls have closed in West Virginia. Results should start being posted sometime before 8 p.m.
Blankenship vs. McConnell
Updated at 7:10 p.m.
Blankenship may have been running against Jenkins and Morrisey for the GOP nomination, but he spent most of his time attacking someone who didn’t appear on the ballot: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP nightmare looms in West Virginia Overnight Finance: Trump looks to rescind B in spending | SEC Republican commish to retire, risking deadlock | House to vote Tuesday on repealing car loan guidelines White House to request Congress rescind billion in spending MORE (R-Ky.).
Blankenship repeatedly railed against McConnell, vowing that if he wins he’ll help “ditch Mitch.” He dubbed the Kentucky Republican “swamp captain” and “Cocaine Mitch” — an obscure nickname meant to reference the discovery of a cocaine package on a ship owned by McConnell’s wife’s family.
The war between the two Republicans escalated further when Blankenship said that McConnell has a conflict of interest because his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoGOP nightmare looms in West Virginia Flake says he’ll donate to Manchin if Blankenship wins primary McConnell urged Trump to speak out against Blankenship: report MORE‘s, father is a “wealthy Chinaperson.” He’s also accused McConnell of wanting to create jobs for “China people.”
McConnell fired back at the racially tinged remarks, saying he doesn’t have a comment “about a ridiculous observation.” The majority leader has largely stayed out of the race — at least publicly — but he’s taken a jab at Blankenship by saying that he hopes voters choose “somebody who can actually win the general election.”
Dems spend heavily for preferred Republican nominee
Updated at 7:00 p.m.
As Republicans sounded the alarm about Blankenship’s perceived electability issues, a Democratic outside group went out of its way to beat his opponents down.
The Democratic group Duty and Country PAC said it planned to attack both Jenkins and Morrisey, but the spending told a different story.
The group spent almost $2 million in attacks on Jenkins, but less than $50,000 on attacking Morrisey, according to Federal Election Commission data culled by Open Secrets — a clear sign that Democrats saw Jenkins as the bigger threat to Manchin.
Jenkins seized on the spending disparity on the campaign trail in the hopes of bringing Republicans onto his side. But it remains to be seen whether he found a way to play that to his advantage. And Washington Republicans sought to keep pace with an outside group of their own that targeted Blankenship — the Mountain Families PAC spent about $1.3 million against the former coal baron over the course of the campaign.
Interestingly, Duty and Country’s treasurer, Booth Goodwin, is no stranger to Blankenship. Goodwin was the U.S. Attorney who prosecuted Blankenship on the misdemeanor mine safety charge that put him in prison for one year.
Blankenship could challenge GOP Senate hopes
Updated at 6:00 p.m.
President TrumpDonald John TrumpSessions unveils ‘zero tolerance’ policy at southern border NY attorney general resigns after allegations of physical abuse Trump Jr. mocks Schneiderman after reports he abused women MORE won the deep-red state by more than 40 points in 2016. But many national Republicans believe a winnable seat will be at risk if Blankenship wins the nomination.
Trump made an eleventh-hour plea for voters to back either Jenkins or Morrisey.
Blankenship’s anti-establishment rhetoric has put him at odds with the party leadership, especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Blankenship has repeatedly gone after McConnell, calling him “Cocaine Mitch” and making racially tinged comments about his family.
Polls in West Virginia close at 7:30 p.m. EST. The Hill will be providing live updates on the high-stakes primary as results roll in.
Other closely watched primaries are happening tonight in Indiana, Ohio and North Carolina. Read our story here on the seven primaries to watch on Tuesday.