President Donald Trump on Monday urged voters in West Virginia to reject former coal executive and GOP Senate candidate Don Blankenship, throwing his support behind the two other major contenders in Tuesday’s primary.
All three leading candidates in the GOP primary have tried to attach themselves to Trump by emphasizing their commitment to his agenda. Last month, Trump invited two of them, Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.) and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R), to appear with him at a White House event on taxes. Blankenship was not asked to attend.
Claiming that Blankenship “can’t win the General Election,” Trump on Monday alluded to the U.S. Senate special election in Alabama last year, where he made a similar endorsement. He initially endorsed the establishment candidate, then-Sen. Luther Strange (R), over challenger Roy Moore, who had a history of controversy.
When Moore defeated Strange in the primary, Trump quickly backed Moore and essentially disavowed his support of Strange, deleting his tweets about the latter.
Moore later lost to Democrat Doug Jones, after facing sexual misconduct allegations from nearly 10 women, including accusations of child molestation. After the election result, Trump tried to distance himself from Moore by reverting back to his previous argument that Strange would have won the general election.
Republican operatives are reportedly worried that Blankenship could win Tuesday’s primary in West Virginia. The former CEO of Massey Energy served a year in prison for his involvement in the deadly Upper Big Branch mine explosion. Blankenship continues to deny any responsibility for the accident, despite his conviction for conspiring to violate mine safety laws.
He has also made bizarre attacks on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) a major part of his campaign platform, standing by his use of the racial slur “Chinaperson” to describe McConnell’s father-in-law, and arguing in a campaign ad that McConnell “has created millions of jobs for China people.”
The winner of Tuesday’s contentious race will challenge incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in November. Manchin’s seat is a top target of Republicans in this year’s midterm elections.
In a statement Monday, Blankenship dismissed Trump’s tweet, calling the president “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.”
“The establishment is misinforming him because they do not want me to be in the U.S. Senate and promote the president’s agenda,” Blankenship continued. “Tomorrow, West Virginia will send the swamp a message — no one, I mean no one, will tell us how to vote. As some have said, I am Trumpier than Trump and this morning proves it.”
Meanwhile, Jenkins said he was “honored” by Trump’s tacit endorsement.
“I’m honored that President Trump encouraged voters to cast their vote for me to Make America Great Again,” he said in a statement. “I’m the only candidate in this race who has backed Donald Trump since day one, and as senator, I’ll continue working side-by-side with him in the best interests of West Virginia and our conservative values.”
This article has been updated to include statements from Don Blankenship and Rep. Evan Jenkins.