West Virginia coal baron and former prisoner Don Blankenship announced on Monday that he plans to launch a long-shot third-party Senate bid after finishing a distant third in this month’s Republican primary.
Blankenship said he would run in the general election as the Constitution Party nominee. But he would need to overcome a “sore loser” law in West Virginia that prevents failed candidates in a main-party primary from refiling to run in the general election under another party’s banner.
Blankenship said he’s prepared to challenge that law in court if needed. If he’s successful, his move that could hurt the GOP’s prospects of unseating Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin in November.
“It is especially appropriate for me to be nominated by the Constitution Party given its staunch and uncompromising commitment to upholding the United States Constitution,” Blankenship said.
Should he follow through on his threat, Blankenship, who spent a year behind bars following the 2010 explosion at his Upper Big Branch Mine that killed 29 workers, could play spoiler in the general election by drawing votes from the GOP nominee, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. Since the primary, Blankenship has refused to endorse Morrisey, whom he says is incapable of defeating Manchin.
Under West Virginia law, minor party candidates have until Aug. 1 to file the necessary number of signatures to qualify for the ballot. Still, it is unclear whether Blankenship is eligible.
A guide book for 2018 candidates posted on the West Virginia secretary of state’s website states: “Candidates affiliated with a recognized political party who run for election in a primary election and who lose the nomination cannot change her or his voter registration to a minor party organization/unaffiliated candidate to take advantage of the later filing deadlines and have their name on the subsequent general election ballot.”
Blankenship, who spent millions out of his own pockets to fund his Senate campaign, hinted that he was ready for a legal fight.
“Although the establishment will likely begin their efforts against us by mounting a legal challenge to my candidacy, we are confident that — if challenged — our legal position will prevail, absent a politically motivated decision by the courts,” he said.
The coal baron also said that the establishment was “determined to keep me — the most anti-establishment candidate in the nation — out of the United States Senate,” and that “the press and the establishment have colluded and lied to convince the public that I am a moron, a bigot, and a felon.”
Since the primary, the Republican Party has moved to prevent Blankenship from waging a drawn-out battle that could damage Morrisey’s prospects. President Donald Trump, hoping to smooth over any residual hurt feelings, phonedBlankenship the day after the nomination was settled to congratulate him on his campaign.
Blankenship has said he believes the president played a key role in his defeat. On the day before the primary, Trump sent out a tweet pleading for West Virginia Republicans to reject Blankenship.
Senior Republicans had long argued that a Blankenship primary win would essentially destroy their prospects of unseating Manchin, one of their top 2018 targets. In the weeks leading up to the primary, a super PAC closely aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spent over $1.3 million on TV ads hammering the coal baron. Blankenship hit back, waging a slash-and-burn campaign targeting the Senate GOP leader and his family in fiercely personal terms.
After Blankenship lost, McConnell’s political team took a victory lap.
“Thanks for playing, Don,” McConnell said in one image that his campaign team uploaded to Twitter.
In the days since, Blankenship has made clear he has no intention of fading into the background. A few days after the primary, his top political strategist, Greg Thomas, said on a radio program that Blankenship would work to defeat Morrisey. And Blankenship released an advertisement in which he warned the Senate GOP leader, “It’s not over.”