After a bruising primary, with some of the most bizarre ads in recent political memory, the Republican party dodged a bullet on Tuesday night as Don Blankenship lost in West Virginia’s GOP Senate race.
The former coal executive, who served time for conspiring to violate mine safety standards in relation to a 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners in West Virginia, was not able to beat out Attorney General Patrick Morrisey or Rep. Evan Jenkins. Perhaps because of resistance from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), a late tweet intervention from President Trump and millions of dollars spent against him, Blankenship could not convince enough voters in the state where over two dozen miners were killed, to back his candidacy.
As the results were coming in Blankenship seemed to acknowledge that he was doomed, saying “Right now it doesn’t look good.” And he ultimately conceded before the race was even called and Morrisey was declared the victor.
Just hours earlier, he had reportedly not campaigned during the final day of the race instead opting to get fitted for a new suit for the general election. Due to state election laws, Blankenship cannot mount a third-party challenge either.
Throughout the weekend, concerns in the party had mounted that Blankenship could actually pull this off, creating another stain on the GOP and possibly losing a winnable race against incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). The worry was heightened enough that McConnell reportedly urged President Trump to issue a statement against Blankenship.
“To the great people of West Virginia we have, together, a really great chance to keep making a big difference,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “Problem is, Don Blankenship, currently running for Senate, can’t win the General Election in your State... No way! Remember Alabama. Vote Rep. Jenkins or A.G. Morrisey!”
Instead of cowering from this statement, in a state where Trump won almost 70 percent of the vote in 2016, Blankenship surmised that the president was a “very busy man and he doesn’t know me and he doesn’t know how flawed my two main opponents are in this primary.”
He would later say, during a televised town hall on Monday, that Trump got his statement wrong about the race and his judgment has been flawed in the past.
“Again, we all really like President Trump's policies but we know that he doesn't get things right,” Blankenship said. “I mean he recommended that people vote for a guy that was basically accused of pedophilia in Alabama,” he said, referencing Trump’s support for Judge Roy Moore, who faced multiple accusations of sexual misconduct with minors.
While many observers found Blankenship’s ads bizarre and racist, his references to “Cocaine Mitch” and his “China family,” may have earned him enough attention to elevate him to the top three finishers in the race.
It wasn’t enough to bring him to victory though. On the plus side, Blankenship’s probation does end on Tuesday night.
In some other contests around the country on Tuesday night, primary voters similarly veered towards safer options.
In Ohio, Richard Cordray easily won his Democratic gubernatorial primary, defeating former Rep. Dennis Kucinich. The former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau had the backing of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) who campaigned for him and affectionately referred to him as “nerd.” Kucinich had the backing of Our Revolution, the political organization spun out of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) presidential campaign. Notably, Sanders himself did not choose to endorse in the race.
“While they did not succeed in winning the Democratic nomination, they ran a campaign that focused on the issues that matter most to Ohioans—affordable health care, a living wage, protecting our environment, getting military-grade weapons off the streets, and addressing the opioid epidemic," Our Revolution president Nina Turner said in a statement after the race was called.
Cordray will face off against Ohio’s Attorney General Mike DeWine, who similarly won resoundingly.
In the neighboring state of Indiana, Republicans had similarly seen an opportunity to knock off an endangered incumbent: Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN). And while that primary was similarly vicious, it paled in comparison to the risks that West Virginia posed for the party.
The candidate that emerged on Tuesday night was Mike Braun, a former state lawmaker who beat two sitting members of Congress: Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) and Rep. Todd Rokita, both of whom attempted to tie themselves as close to President Trump as conceivably possible. But it may have been Braun’s message, which he emphasized in ads, that the two men were largely indistinguishable from one another, that ultimately set him apart.
Perhaps the biggest winner of the entire night though was someone not even on the ballot. McConnell’s team couldn’t hide their glee, particularly with the Blankenship loss. His team tweeted an image of the Senate Majority Leader photoshopped into a still image from the Netflix drug-cartel show Narcos, writing: “Thanks for playing, @DonBlankenship. #WVSen.”